Bald Faced Hornets - An Early Winter

 Athalia Whitworth - Maple tree in ice storm

I woke this morning to find our resident hornets were busy moving into the adjacent bird house. My plans for spending time with the children in the sandbox situated below it were wiped out almost as soon as I had made them. I was ticked.

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. 


Bald Faced Hornets: Catch and Release

I checked off another item on my to-do list tonight. Normally that would be a very satisfying feeling, but right now I just feel shaky. And maybe confused.

Not long ago, Blueberry excitedly informed me that she and Mountain Man found hornets building a nest. It was just barely visible in a gourd bird house, but watching closely you could see the hornets darting in and out, busily constructing their papery nest in the hollow meant for birds, just above the children's sandbox. 

Mountain Man went to get some spray. I stopped him. I want to move them, I said. I will wait until dark, then cut them down and move them farther into the woods, out of harms way, both for them and for us. 

We both paused, wondering if I could be serious. 

The conversation took place several weeks ago. Each night passed, and I was too tired or preoccupied with other things to remember the hornets. Each day the hornets worked diligently building their nest. Each day the queen grew the number of workers in the swarm. The rate of expansion was stunning. 

The conversation continued. I insisted that I would move it. Privately I asked myself, Why? What was the compelling reason or reasons that drove me to say, Live and let live?  

Tonight after singing my babes to sleep, I put on my pajamas, climbed into bed and remembered the hornets and their massive paper construction.  I paused and tuned into the coldness of sheets on my skin, the bull frogs croaking by the pond, the night still and dark and quiet. Time was running out. Their numbers and sheer size of the nest were growing to frightening proportions. Not only that but in a few weeks their activities would change to more hostile as food as the harvest seasons ends and food sources dwindle. They would have to go and soon. I tossed the covers aside and got back out of bed to look up how to remove a hornets nest. 

I was hoping for something scientific and studied, perhaps from a cooperative extension or an entomology department at a university. Instead I discovered a bizarre collection of home videos. I watched a kind-faced man with frizzy long hair cloak himself from head to toe and use a spatula and mason jars to capture and remove two red wasp nests. His desire to preserve those short-tempered creatures and relocate them to "the wild" was a sentiment I could relate to. I watched his self-narrated story unfold. He managed to "save" all the red wasps, and when he concluded victoriously that he could now relocate them to a better habitat, he did so with great relief and not an ounce of bravado. 

I was dealing with a different species, Bald Faced hornets, so I narrowed my search and uncovered this scene:

This attempt is unfortunate on so many levels. If I had any notions of nobleness, these guys forced me to own up to the sheer stupidity of it all.

Their technique seemed to hold some promise, however.

I closed my computer, returned to my closet for a pair of jeans. I sorted through Mountain Man's clothes and pulled a pair of his canvas pants on over mine. I headed downstairs and selected a leather bomber jacket as a base layer and zipped my softshell over it, cinching the ties around my waist, face and strapping the cuffs tightly over a pair of leather gloves, ensuring that no stowaways would fly under my protective layers. I acknowledged that taking the step for protective clothing was the back up plan. As in, if the bag'em and snip'it plan failed, and I found myself swarmed by angry hornets.... I asked myself again if I really wanted to do this.


Sometimes I have songs that play like soundtracks in my head. Tonight the lyrics whispered quietly, Wake me up when it's all over, when I'm wiser and I'm older.... I noticed them and smiled inwardly.

I walked to the shed and got the step ladder. I carried it across the lawn. As I neared the tree, I changed course and looped around, trying to sidle in from behind. From that angle, the porch light backlit the nest, and I had difficulty seeing anything. I sighed and told myself, Do or Do Not. My kinda, sorta, maybe approach was not getting me anywhere.

Just as I had done over and again with the aerial fabrics, I slowed down and envisioned what would come next. Breaking down each step, calculating every move and then practicing it. I would climb the ladder, pull the trash bag up and over the nest, cinch it tight, clip the ribbon that held it hanging from the tree, climb down the ladder, walk across the yard and toss it into the woods.

I stood in the grass. I held the bag in front of me. I practiced opening and closing the scissors. I decided if cinching the bag closed didn't work, I would grip it closed with my gloved hand.

I walked to the ladder. I told myself it would work. I climbed the ladder to the top rung. The nest hung at eye level and was twice the size of my head. I listened. Silence. I marveled that the residents might all be sleeping. I gently pulled the bag up and over the orb. I fiddled with the ties at the top. My finger slipped out of one side. The bag began to hum. I grabbed the top of the bag and quickly twisted it tightly. The humming grew louder. I shut out the sound and used my scissors to snip the ribbon. I climbed down the ladder and wished with all my might to be somewhere else in the world doing something else. Anywhere else. I walked quickly, rushing my boots through the tall grass to the edge of the woods. I paused. How was I to get the nest out of the bag without being swarmed?

Without deliberating, I grabbed the bottom of the bag, released my tight grip on the opening and flung it. I watched it sail from the bag through the brush into darkness. I heard it hit something solid and make a cracking sound. I ran. I ran back to my house, back to the warm light in my kitchen. I pushed the door closed behind me and shakily removed my leather work gloves and multiple layers of clothing. I asked myself, Was it worth it? Mission accomplished? Satisfied? 

I could only shrug my shoulders and acknowledge, I don't know. What I do know is that tomorrow I will play in the sandbox with my babes. 


Fun Lunches

In recent weeks, I have been making "fun lunches" again, as Blueberry likes to call them. Bento boxes are magical in our house, inspiring us to look for cheery bits of loveliness peppered in the day.


One Dress, One Shirt, One Month


I lay awake at night thinking about them. Day breaks and I ponder where they are now. I wonder if they have eaten or if they are cold or if anyone has shown them kindness. I wonder if they have lost hope or if they still hold fast to the belief that good, kind people still exists and are working to find them and help them. I pray fervently for their hearts and their minds: that they will find healing. I pray that they will be rescued and that tomorrow will be different. I pray that tomorrow brings freedom.

Human trafficking is modern day slavery. Cases of human trafficking have been reported in every state in the United States. It happens to women, to men, to children, to US citizens and to foreign nationals. The poor, and those who find themselves on the fringes of society, are most vulnerable.

For the next month, I will join a campaign One Dress, One Shirt, One Month to represent those who are enslaved in sex trafficking by wearing the same attire for thirty days. By doing so, I hope that together we can learn the signs of human trafficking and be ready to alert authorities to the whereabouts of victims. The campaign is raising funds for a local safehome for children rescued from sex trafficking.

What you can do:
Read 20 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking
Sponsor me for $1 a day, benefiting The Tree House, a safehome in Boone.
Start a campaign in your city like this one. Contact Break Out, Walk Out for details.
Pray for change. Pray for freedom.


Oh my Lard!

We have several hundred pounds of pork meat in our freezer. To make the most of all the cuts, we bought Beyond Bacon cookbook. We canned pounds and pounds of sausage for Christmas. We watched videos on how to brine bacon. We are working up the courage to cure our meat in a new-to-us charcoal smoker, which is still sitting in the box on our porch, and this week, we borrowed our neighbors' meat grinder to render the fatback into lard and crispy lardons.

We began traveling down the road to slow food and local eating several years ago. It has been a journey to assess what we eat, where it comes from, how it is grown and raised and how all those facts influence our health, our community, and the greater good of others and the earth. For a couple of years now, we have endeavored to slowly make the switch to buy all our meats directly from local farmers. Most of the meat in our freezer this year comes from New Life Farm, just over the hill from our Little Creek. In fact, we went WHOLE HOG with a pastured pig raised out in the grass and mud, fed leftover grains from a local brewery and allowed to forage fallow fields for organic delectables.

Thanksgiving weekend we went out to the farm to say "Thank you" and "Goodbye" to the kind animal that would grace our table for the coming year. I have always thought that if I had to "get close" to my food - ie, acknowledge that those neat packages of plastic wrapped meat in the supermarket came from a beautiful animal that was living and breathing the week before - that I would probably freak out and never eat meat again. However, my experience has been different, and I have found that seeing the animals out on pasture at the farm and then being a part of the quiet days of butchering and processing has given me a deep respect and thankfulness, albeit tinged with sadness, for the life the animal lived and gave. The sentiments compel me not waste any or as little as possible of the animal, a concept dubbed "head to tail," so that their life (and death) is not in vain, so to speak.

My grandmother, who grew up with chickens and hogs in the yard, much prefers to have food packaged ready-to-eat with just a quick zip in the microwave. She declares I am crazy to go back down the road she left far behind. I can't contradict her on the crazy part, although my notions of food and nourishment are pondered and purposed. What about you? What are the influencing factors for food and nourishment in your life?