Yellow Jackets

Deeply conflicted.  That’s how I feel about calling the exterminator.  The longer I’m alive the more eastern my thinking becomes.  What right do I have to kill other animals for doing just what they’ve evolved to do?  The yellow jackets who made a nest in our siding were doing just what nature directed them to do.  In what sense is our house natural?  When they started getting inside, though, memories of having been traumatized by stepping on a yellow jacket nest when I was younger came to too sharp a focus.  Terror is probably the right word.  We were catching and releasing five or six a day and summer doesn’t look to be about to give way to autumn very soon.  There’s nothing like being startled by an angry bee when you walk into a room in summer-weight clothes.  So the exterminator came.

As the yellow jackets fled into the house to escape the poison I pondered what right I had to deprive them of their lives (here’s the eastern thinking part).  How was my comfort, or my lack of terror, more important than their need for a home?  Couldn’t we peacefully coexist?  You see, I’m no fan of violence of any sort.  In my ideal world there would be no war and no meanness.  You might not be able to call yellow jackets cuddly, but they don’t seem the happiest of creatures with whom to interact.  They’re industrious, like business owners want their drones to be, but their people skills aren’t too good.  Maybe it’s just projecting, but when they swarm the only word that comes to mind is anger.  Even their evolved body armor reflects that.  Still, I didn’t want them killed.  I just wanted them not to misunderstand our human interactions while shut in during a pandemic.

Life is a gift to all creatures.  I became a vegan years ago because of humanitarian concern for our fellow creatures.  The mess our world’s in now because of our lack of care for anything but money plainly shows.  Bees, it could be argued, make more of a contribution to the well-being of the planet than I do.  Who am I to make any claim of superiority?  Still, I’m responsible to pay half my salary on a mortgage that will keep me in one location until the situation betters.  When I see that silhouette in the window a sting of terror from my childhood comes back as I grab an empty peanutbutter jar to catch and release, only to have another bee replace the first.  Childhood traumas are like that, of course.  But now I apologize for bringing on the death of fellow creatures and I walk through the rooms through which they had freely flown.

Buzzy Headed

If you’re like me, and I sincerely hope you’re not, you spent your childhood worrying about killer bees.  You see, I was stung a lot as a child, having stepped on a yellow-jacket nest hidden in an old tree stump.  That event was one of the most formative of my life.  Oh, I act brave, shooing wasps and carpenter bees away, but that’s all a front.  I was repairing a piece of furniture out in the garage over the weekend and a big old bee got in and started buzzing around.  It drove me to distraction.  I once had a bee land on my back and sting me for no apparent reason.  Alone in the garage I had no one to watch my back.  I decided to do some repairs back in the house instead.  Let it have the garage.

During this pandemic, then, the last thing I needed to hear was that “murder hornets” have made it to the United States.  And Republicans are bad enough!  The murder hornet is responsible for double-digit deaths in its native land, and now my childhood nightmares of killer bees have reemerged.  We had a warming trend over the weekend.  There were so many wasps and bees around outside that I could even hear their buzzing with the windows safely closed.  Insects are the future, of course.  They adapt better and more quickly than we do, and there are many, many more of them.  The Bible often uses insects as vehicles of divine wrath.  No wonder horror movies often make use of them!

Image credit: SecretDisc, via Wikimedia Commons

More rational minds soothe us, saying that murder hornets seldom attack people or pets.  If provoked, however, they can do so fatally.  Perhaps it’s the anger of stinging insects that bothers me the most.  The yellow-jackets that attacked me certainly seemed angry.  My stepping on their home was an innocent accident.  It was also a learning experience.  I don’t step on old stumps any more.  I haven’t since the incident.  Such early traumas can stay with you all your life, and the buzzing co-inhabitants of the earth, I have to remind myself, have as much right to be here as we do.  In cases like killer bees, we invented them.  When we play Doctor Frankenstein nature responds in kind.  The monster was angry.  Bees, wasps, and hornets may be intelligent but they can’t reason out the motives of bumbling humans who accidentally disturb them.  And now a bigger variety has moved in.  It’s probably best to keep calm and not get anybody angry.

Thy Will Bee Done

Today I had to do battle against the bees. That’s the way I must steel myself for the task of mass specieocide. Watching those little tiny creatures struggling, kicking their six legs and antennae into the air, trying to get the poison off is heartrending to me. They are, after all, only trying to do whatever it is that yellow-jackets do. But it is a heat wave right now, and without central air we need to open windows as much as possible, and today they tried to invade people air space. I had to do something. So standing over the carnage of an Ezekielian valley of damp exoskeletons, I recalled the bees of the Bible. (May their entomological souls rest in peace.)

Bees are one of the more innovative weapons in the divine arsenal. They are used to chase people away, like God’s little army of armored stinger missiles. And as in any arms race, it is numbers that count. Hundreds of them to the one human being holding a putrid can of chemicals trying to defend home against their incursions. In the book of Judges, the one prominent female judge is Deborah. Her name translates to “bee.” She is the bane of the Canaanites. So much so that general Barak (“lightning”) refuses to go to war without her. Bees were a potent curse in ancient times as well, strong enough to drive a family from their home.

Bee careful around this one, because love hurts!

Bee careful around this one, because love hurts!

A Sumerian cylinder seal depicts what appears to be a divine scene with a killer bee goddess (not an Africanized killer bee, but a slang killer bee). One wonders what the worshippers must be thinking. Perhaps they too had watched Phase IV when they were kids! Bees could also be benevolent. Honeybees provided a rare treat before sugarcane had been discovered, and even Israel’s “promised land” flowed with milk and honey. So like most of life, bees were ambiguous. They bore all the markings of the divine: a wonderful sweet residue, nice trendy color scheme, but a painful sting that could even be fatal. Gifts of the gods are like that. So no matter how humane my temporary solution may be, I still feel like I’m taking on the gods.