Tuesday, September 06, 2005

We Kilt the Durn Bees

Mowing our lawn became a dangerous chore this summer. The first time Mike came in with a swollen ankle, I thought a snake had bit him. I found two or three puncture marks on his ankle and the flesh was hot and swollen. He had an elephant ankle for four or five days afterward. He didn’t know what had happened; he hadn’t seen a snake, a spider, or any insect.

The second time Mike was attacked, he was mowing the back yard and I was trimming trees on the side. I heard the mower stop and Mike ran over to me. He pulled up his shirt to reveal puffy bites beneath one arm, very near his armpit. Again, we were mystified. As I handed his shirt back to him, a striped insect fell onto my hand. I yelped and flung it away. I suspected it was a bee, but couldn’t be sure in my panic.

The next week, Mike tried to mow again. This time, he saw them: yellow jackets swarmed his lower legs, biting and stinging. He retreated to the house, I applied After Bite, and he swore to never mow the backyard again.

Being the red-blooded American I am, I was not about to allow our environment to dictate our behavior. The back yard is our domain, not a bee’s. I set out to find the nest. Mike had been stung when he was near the fallen tree and the north corner of the yard, so I concentrated my search there. I found nothing. I consulted with my coworkers and searched again, looking along the fence posts and poking my head into my neighbor’s brush pile. The nest remained hidden. I gave up. We just wouldn’t mow the back yard ever again.

On Sunday, I planted a witch hazel along our northwest fence line. I stepped back to admire my work and imagine the future sweeping border. Nestled in the west corner, framed by the border’s curve, I plan to install a pond. I was pacing the future pond area, noting the ground’s contours, when the gaudy colors of a yellow jacket caught my eye. It swooped low and landed on a dirt runway outside of a hole in the ground. As I watched, the striped 747s launched and landed with regularity. I had found the nest.

I raced into the house and dragged Mike out into the yard. He agreed that this was our target. We carefully inspected the area to be sure there were no other entrances and planned our attack. We would spray the nest after sundown dressed in our best beekeeper-inspired outfits. We would each be armed with a can of insecticide. Mike would cover the nest entrance while I was on the lookout for any patrols.

It was fully dark when we launched our offensive. I wore jeans tucked into socks, a hooded sweatshirt, and a scarf. My face was uncovered, but I figured I could run if I had to. Mike found my outfit silly, but did change from shorts to long pants and covered his feet with socks. He wore his jacket unzipped. I had thoughtfully marked the hole with a piece of bark, so the nest was easy to spot with only the light of our flashlight. Mike lit the entrance and began to spray, using only half of the can’s 20-foot range. A moth flew by, and mistaking it for a yellow jacket, I sprayed the air wildly. After twenty seconds of uneventful spraying, Mike asked me how much longer he should spray.

“The whole can!” I insisted.

He continued spraying a bit longer, but, after noting that the ground was soaked and the “runway” was now a puddle of insecticide, then stopped. We returned to the house. After the anticlimactic moment, my get-up seemed even more ridiculous. I had expected, and prepared Mike for, hordes of angry yellow jackets vigorously defending their nests. Instead, we had just sprayed a hole in the ground. With no bodies to count, we had no idea if it worked.

Monday morning, I checked the hole for comings and goings and saw nary an insect. Mike mowed that afternoon without incident. I suppose we have won, but it feels a bit hollow without an outright battle. We still have a can and a half of insecticide. Perhaps the neighbors have a hornet nest we can destroy.


Blogger Kristin said...

I hate yellow jackets. They're so evil compared to lazily swooping bumblebees. Your adventure reminds me of the time I got all Rambo on some ants.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hee hee, excellent story! Do post if they come back!


12:48 PM  
Blogger KT said...

Your get-up wasn't outlandish. Better safe than sorry. I've been stung a couple of times this year doing NOTHING to provoke the little buggers. They have gotten increasingly aggressive- yellow jackets, hornets and wasps.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous ben said...

same thing happened to us when I was a kid. Instead of bug spray, dad poured gasoline down the hole and then lit it. Looked like a oil rig burning in the night:)

8:20 PM  
Blogger OldRoses said...

You were really brave! And well-dressed. Good thing your kitties didn't get into the nest. My cat loves to chase insects but he is not allowed outside so he has to be contented with the few bugs that managed to come in the door with me. I'm sure he would have loved your bees if he had been there.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Scott in Washington said...

Just you wait until the larvae hatch. We will rule ze backyard foolish human, heh, heh.

Gasoline was my first thought too. Burn!

9:07 PM  

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