I steamed in self-righteous indignation: How could they? I went to a lot of trouble to make it clear that this was the wrong place to construct their high-density complex. The zone was clearly marked for children and not for insects, particularly not insects with quick-tempers and heavy artillery. My Mama Bear rose from deep within my chest, my eyes narrowed, and I considered, If I were a real bear, I would march over to that nest and paw it down and eat them all on the spot. With that vision, I abandoned any compulsion to Live and Let live. It was time to embrace the Circle of Life.
I took another long look at the industrious invaders darting in and out of the painted red gourd and resolved to bide my time.
The day stretched on. I traded the sandbox plans in for a garden hose and kiddie pool filled with the mountain water so ice cold it took the breath away. Occasionally I would look across the yard at the hornets, and for a moment, my thoughts would wander from my babes' laughter to feelings of consternation. If only I had found something more scholarly in my web search the night before, something other than crazy people with trash bags and clippers.
Maybe when I tossed the nest into the darkness, the swarm took to the air in a frenzy, and perhaps those darting insects got themselves lost, such that, at day break, they made their way back to the closest thing to "home," and then got busy doing what they do. Those guys build with intensity. Maybe the nest was damaged in the crash landing and the queen abandoned it, and her swarm followed. Maybe I should take an entomology course and pester a professor with all my many questions. Maybe I will just walk over there and spray them all with poison and let them writhe.... But no, I cannot do that. It's too awful, and too wreck-less. Where else might the poison land? What other sorts of critters and bugs might become casualties? How long might the poison stay on the leaves and rocks and plants around it, and what might be impacted? How far would the effect ripple? I just couldn't.
Fine. Poison is out. Tossing them into the woods is not foolproof. Think, think, think. What was I going to do with them?
My thoughts wandered back to the "research" I had done the night before. One woman used a shop vac to "capture" them as they exited the nest. The comments under the video were hilarious. "You should return the vac to the store and complain that it has a few 'bugs' in it." Clever, but the technique was too tedious. I could not possibly stand there for as long as it took her to suction them one by one. Plus, it was just too weird.
Okay. My thoughts wandered on, sifting through the disorganized piles of information scattered about from reading the night before. Oh, there was someone who reported putting them on ice and transporting them. In fact, he was about the only respectable informant out there with any meaningful insights on relocating hornets' nests. I rummaged a little deeper through that pile of facts and photos in my mind. It seems he had something to say about how they die off with cold, and there was also a list of tips for preserving the nest for educational purposes. I wondered if I would need dry ice or just the freezer. Ha, ha! Another memory interrupted my analyzing, Remember that time Mother Dear found a falcon dead on the road and put it in the freezer until she could get a license so she could take him to the taxidermist. Oh, that was funny. And seriously creepy and gross.
I thought about it. Yes, I would freeze them. I waited for darkness.
Darkness came. Would you prefer to put the children to bed or tackle the dishes, I asked him. He chose dishes; I herded the children to their beds. He finished the dishes, took a shower and went to bed; I was still singing lullabies, getting a glass of water, a tissue, and sending children back to their beds. Some nights these moments are bliss, and my heart could burst with happiness; sometimes it feels like riding out a storm. Tonight I found myself looking fervently for someone out walking on the water. The ship needed saving.
Finally, after what seemed like forty-five minutes, because it was, I cashed in and headed to bed myself. My body settled into stillness, and my thoughts wandered lazily. Then I remembered the hornets. Oh no, just no, maybe tomorrow, I argued. Nope, no sense in putting it off. Those hornets are way to proficient at what they do, and no one, especially not me, wants to handle a nest as large as the last one ever again. Ever. I got up. I would do it now: smaller nest, less hornets. It will be worth getting out of bed for. I will close this deal, and we will move on.
I pulled on a pair of jeans and walked downstairs for my softshell. No gloves, no double layers, no hat tonight. The assessories were cumbersome and not much help besides. Either I would either walk through the ordeal unscathed or I would be making a baking soda poultice and taking benedryll.
Dread. Heavy as a 30 lb bag of sand. The weight hung heavy on my chest, pulling my shoulders in, creasing my brow. Tension sprang up around my temples. As I pulled on my sock and boots, Tracy Chapman marched up and wailed, "Give me one reason to stay here, and I'll turn right back around." I could not agree more, so I chimed in on the back up vocals, "You can see me turning."
I grabbed the scissors and the bag. I opened the door and turned on the porch light. I stood under it with moths and damsel flies flitting above my head, thrown off course by its artificial glow. I looked down to the grove of trees and the red gourd bird house above the sandbox. It seemed darker than it did the night before. I walked around the porch to the back, reached my hand inside the door and flipped the switch to light the entire porch. Yes, that made a difference. There was more visibility now.
Nothing else to do but to do what I came to do. I shuffled down to the ladder I had set up earlier in the day. Reaching the sandbox, I stared up long and hard. I listened. I watched. The trees shivered with a gentle breeze that brushed off the afternoon's rain. The leftover raindrops made a constant rustling. It was not the pin drop silence of the night before. Still it seemed that the hive was quiet, with everyone was tucked inside, resting.
My heart was heavy. I did not want to do this at all. I wasn't frightened like the night before, so what was the hang up? Last night I was terrified I might be stung by a million gazillion mad angry hornets. Tonight I knew if I was calculated and careful, I could bag them without a so much as a scratch. Last night I was motivated by compassion and a deep desire to do right by the world. Tonight I was plotting murder. That was it. There was going to be loss, and it needed to be mourned.
I paused and said a quick goodbye and explained, You're time is done. It must be so. I did what I could. Now we must move one.
I tested the ladder. It was steady. This nest was higher. I would need to stand on the top rung and reach over my head to remove it. I hoped my arms would be long enough. I hoped I could keep my footing without slipping off the top of the ladder. I decided to keep my gaze ahead and keep the nest in my periphery. I would use a nearby sapling to steady myself so that I wouldn't risk shaking the hornet's tree. The last thing I wanted was to disturb them prematurely. I climbed slowly, pausing on each rung to be sure I was undetected. I reached the top rung. I felt my heart rate rise, and adrenaline surged through my body. I told myself to slow my breathing. I turned to the face the nest full on. Still quiet. I opened the bag and gently slipped it up and around the dangling gourd. I clenched it at the top. As I twisted the bag closed, I shook the nest a bit. The swarm hummed an alarm. I snipped it free; it fell into the bottom of my bag; I twisted the top tighter. The hornets buzzed out of the hive into the bag, on full alert, wired to seek and destroy.
My body went on full alert as well. I scrambled down the ladder. I hurried too quickly and almost capsized into the sandbox. I looked down to be sure that the top of the bag was tightly closed and walked quickly to the house. I opened the porch door and stepped into the fully lit front hall. Silhouettes of the hornets pinged against the white plastic walls of the bag. I walked into the kitchen, opened the chest freezer, dropped in the bag in and slammed the lid shut.
I listened to the buzzing and thumping as some escaped from the bag. I wondered if hornets' mandibles were strong enough to chew through the rubber ring that suctioned the top closed. My imagination ran wild, and the hornets escaped the freezer and flew through the house. I could close the bedroom doors upstairs to be safe, I reasoned - But what about the morning? Mountain Man would be none to pleased to have hornets greet him at breakfast. The thought stopped me in my tracks. The hornets could not escape the freezer, and I had to be sure of it.
I leaned heavily on the freezer top. I wondered how long it would be before the cold overtook their bodies. I bent down and turned the dial colder by one notch. I waited. I breathed. My pulse slowed. My body settled. I reasoned that the freezer was impenetrable.
I waited a minute more, then turned off the light and headed back to bed. I hoped that Mountain Man would not go looking in the freezer anytime soon. I hoped that it would be not too gross to clean it out. I hoped that there would be no survivors. I really, really, really hoped that this would be the last time I found myself bagging a swarm of hornets.