That was the subject line of an email I got from Dick today. The first line of the email was:
And what followed was a series of photos—some of which I shot, some of which he shot—of my backyard, which, normally a place of safety and sanctuary, where I got kamikaze’d by a swarm of pissed-off yellowjackets a few days ago.
To be fair, they had reason to be angry. While Dick and I were merrily vacationing on the cool-weather’d, blue-skied Vancouver Island, a man named Henry was cleaning up my backyard of decades of unchecked ivy activity. Henry, a career landscaper, and his wife Olga just did a great clean-up/planting of the apartment house next door to me. And I accosted them one day asking if they could do something similar for me.
Since I had a practically dead tree removed earlier this year, my whole front yard is a new climate zone. It went from mostly shady to primarily sunny, killing most of my longtime azaleas. I loved those azaleas, but I’m once again remembering that when things die, stuff changes, and whether we welcome those changes or not, they’re there, and get used to it, Janis.
So I asked Henry and Olga for their expertise on what might work in my now-sunny front yard as well as hiring Henry to do a major cleanup of the whole kit and caboodle.
What I didn’t expect was that (a) he’d do it while I was out of town, (b) he’d uncover a wasp’s nest in an old stump, and (c) forget to tell me about (b).
So I was out in the yard the day after I returned, stunned to see the urban jungle of my backyard (i.e., the way-too-much-ivy’d section) laid practically bare (like a haircut, it’ll grow back). I went out there with the hose and was watering the dry area when… bam! out flew a squadron of yellowjackets aimed right for me.
I should say here that I am not fond of stinging things and have, in fact, been known to scream in a very high, little girl voice when, on rare occasions, I’ve been stung by flying insects. Can’t help it, not very brave of me, but there you go. And without thinking, I immediately turned the hose on myself, trying to spray off the yellowjackets (which are, it turns out, a type of wasp) all over me. (Note to self: That doesn’t work; in fact, it pins the damn things to you.)
I did scream in a high voice and pulled off my T-shirt clotted with wasps going for blood and hollered “ow! ow! ow!” as I was repeatedly stung. I thought to turn the hose nozzle off, dropped the hose and ran for the back door to the house, trying to shed the yellowjacket air force and hoped I wasn’t bringing in any bad guys with me.
Inside, I leaned against the door, breathing as hard as a fleeing cartoon character, my skin alive with stings. I sped toward the bathroom, stripping off more clothes, whispering to myself, “You’re OK, you’re OK,” horrified to see one rogue pilot crawling on the floor by the tub. Naked by now, I headed for the kitchen, retrieved the fly swatter and returned to the bathroom.
I routinely shoo flies out the back door rather than kill them, let spiders set up shop in the kitchen’s highest corners each summer to catch the flies that refuse to leave, yet I did not hesitate to whap the downed enemy before I got in the shower to scrub off the venom, to wash any stingers down the drain, red welts already blooming. (Also learned: Unlike honeybees, yellowjackets can sting multiple times and not die, and their genus name is vespula, which is rather pretty.)
When I emerged, clean and somewhat calm, I stood before the mirror and counted: 16 stings and still standing. I didn’t feel shocky. I took deep breaths without a problem. I downed antihistamine, dabbed welts with aloe vera, then tea tree oil, then cortisone cream, all while avoiding the corpse on the floor (which was nicely mounted and appropriately photographed at the top of this post by Dick Schmidt, retired Bee photographer).
Later that day, I went with Dick to a doctor’s appointment. His GP is also mine, and at the end of visit, I ventured a question about wasp stings.
“Should I be concerned that I got stung 16 times by yellowjackets today?” I asked.
The doctor’s raised eyebrows answered my question. “How do you feel?” he asked.
“Stung,” I said and told him what I’d done to rinse and dose myself.
He asked a few good followup questions, then suggested Benadryl and cortisone cream, which I added to my regimen and added, “That’s a lot of stings.”
More than 30 years ago, doing a story about beekeepers in Vacaville, I got stung three or four times and had an allergic reaction. Those were honeybees; these were wasps. I don’t know if there’s a difference, but I was glad to be still standing.
And again, while I’m generally sympathetic to insects, I called in an expert bee guy, who came the next day to… well, frankly, commit waspacide in my back yard. Honeybees can be relocated; yellowjackets cannot, I learned from Paul, the bee guy.
And in a matter of minutes, Paul sprayed a concoction of “a little insecticide” with peppermint oil, which, apparently does wasps in. I did not go outside to watch this procedure, but I took photos from inside the house.
And Paul told me, after it was all over, that as soon as he went out there, he was immediately swarmed by hundreds of bees (“500 to 700,” he figured), and I knew I’d done the right thing to call him.
Two days later Dick and I ventured out in the back yard to survey the carnage. Surprisingly, we found no yellowjacket corpses, though we did find their comb with little dead wasps-to-be inside:
The yard was blessedly free of the wasps, who were, I understand, doing their jobs, defending the nest and their queen. Perhaps there was a kinder way to persuade the yellowjackets to leave, but I haven’t found an effective one on the internet yet.
But here’s the thing: Sometimes, in a crisis, we discover things about ourselves that we didn’t know. Somehow I knew what to do, and I did it (admittedly, with a few screams along the way). I didn’t panic. I usually think of myself as a weenie, but when I stood in front of the mirror, dabbing unguents on my stung spots, I decided that I am tougher than I think I am. I took steps to quell an allergic reaction. I am a 60-year-old woman who is not an easily frightened weak person (Merriam-Webster’s definition of “weenie”) after all.
And that—after six decades on the planet—is not a bad thing to know about yourself.