This story previously appeared on my website, www.oldblacktruck.com. before it was stolen and held for ransom by an entity in Argentina. Of course, my reasoning was that to pay the ransom would be playing into the hands of a lowly thief.
If this is an example of the way the internet operates then I want no part of it and have some creative suggestions as to what Mr. Aquino, my kidnaper, can do with oldblacktruck.com.
The story is about a yellow jacket wasp encounter circa 2005. If they have yellow jackets in Argentina, I wish Mr. Aquino the honor of a re-enactment. Anyway, I found the original hand-written copy during our move, so here goes.
One of my least favorite jobs has been that of a “straw boss,” or one who supervises a group of temporary farm workers during the fruit harvest. I only want to supervise one person – me.
In the periods between completing the harvest of a fruit variety and waiting for the next to ripen, the grower would assign the crews busy work to keep them from moving on.
This was the 1980s, still the golden age of the dole – and I don’t mean pineapples. I was assigned a small crew of welfare recipients supplementing their monthly checks at the insistence of the welfare office, as it was called then.
Our duties included cutting of the tall brush and bushes that had grown up around the barns and other buildings.
There were no weed-eaters in those days (they existed, but weren’t very reliable. Farmers still considered them a suburban toy and a symbol of modern laziness and excess.) so we were using brush scythes.
These tools require you to get close to your work.
“I ain’t goin’ in thet brush – I’m afraid of a snake” came the universal response to my order. The crew leaned on their scythes and I winced as the wooden snaths creaked.
Though the official West Virginia state phobia is snakes, I maintain that at least 90 percent of the snakes that some folks allow to control a portion of their lives simply do not exist. In over 40 years of working in the woods and around farms, I have yet to see my first live rattlesnake.
I’m willing to concede, though, that on many of these occasions, a well concealed rattlesnake may have been looking on thinking; “What a putz.” Grabbing a sythe, I would march into a stand of brush, mowing it down in order to demonstrate that it did not hide a serpent waiting in ambush.
“What about that brush over yonder?” a crew member asked. “It’s closer to the creek ya’ know.” I then began to understand where the character of Pa Kettle originated.
Though many years later, my attitude toward wild growth remained the same. I’ve always been happy to let wild weeds and bushes soften the edges of our property giving no thought to what dangers it might hide.
In the weeks following Aug. 1, (circa) 2005, wild brushy areas on the property were regarded with suspicion and even a mild dread, I could feel that the fear would eventually wear off, but it wasn’t happening fast enough.
Here’s how this temporary change in attitude toward wild growth came about; We don’t leave trash about on our modest riverside acreage, but we are as susceptible to random packrat impulses as anyone. One of these treasures was an old iron bathtub that wife Stephanie found somewhere.
It was discreetly hidden behind one of our sheds. Walking up from the river, I noticed that the tub was about 1/3 full of water. Grasping an end of the tub and lifting, I watched as gallons of murky water with a generation of mosquito larvae flowed across the new-mown grass.
I had stood there for more than a minute when I realized that I was becoming covered in yellow jacket wasps. The first sting removed any doubt – the ones that followed really helped to drive the point home.
I ran through the yard smashing the wasps against myself (this would later make it impossible to count the stings due to bruising.) and reached the back of the Old Black Truck.
Fortunately, there was about 150 PSI in the compressor tank. I blew the wasps away from myself which seemed to confuse them long enough for me to make my escape to the house. Looking out the window, I could see them attacking a towel hanging on the clothesline.
Of course, I had been stung before. The pain of 1 or 2 unexpected stings is almost unbearable. However, I felt very little pain after as many as 30 stings, mostly on my legs below my cutoffs.
This was the first endorphin release that I can recall. Still, I began to feel the expected “rush,” much like that of too much caffeine as the venom began to run its course.
Normally, I wouldn’t even consider calling a doctor, but Stef was away for the week and I was home alone. About an hour after the attack, I called my doctor’s office; “An hour?” came the authoritative voice. “If you’re not dead by now, don’t worry about it.”
I went on about my business thinking that the day would be shot as I was becoming unsteady as I metabolized the venom. I moved about making my rounds which also became a lecture tour as I related my experience.
I found one customer struggling with a Farmall H, which I got running for him though I was somewhat handicapped regarding the more precise details of the work. He asked if I should be driving in my condition. I wasn’t sure. I moved on to the next project and actually put in a fairly good day.
Back home, I carefully approached the nest in order to plan my nocturnal counterattack. I could see them coming and going from under the tub. They seemed to sense me and started to become agitated so I quietly retreated.
The bathtub would have to be moved to expose the nest. I quietly crept to the far end of the tub and pulled it away. Again, they rose in a cloud and came after me, but I had a lead so was only stung once.
That evening, when things had settled somewhat, I again went to observe the nest and to shove a bottle of gasoline down the hole. I saw that the tub had been the roof of the nest and removing it had exposed the paper outer wall of the nest itself. This kind of foiled my bottle/battle plan.
Never underestimate the power of a .410 shotgun. My Winchester model 37 gets the job done without making my shoulder ache. If you have difficulty taking this gun seriously, try thinking of it as a.41 Magnum handgun with a 30-inch barrel.
Someone had told me that when these insects attack, they mark you with a scent so that the rest of the hive can find you to finish you off.
“Scent this, you little devils.” I muttered as I pumped 4 rounds of 3-inch, number 4s into the nest from 12 feet away. An application of Hot-Shot finished the job. Done.
In the years to follow, the Yard Wars would continue. While I consider the yellow jackets to be warlike and militaristic-nature’s Nazis, I’m the one wielding ordnance that would be outlawed by the Geneva Convention.
I’ve even used Thermit, an old-fashioned welding compound that burns with heat intense enough to burn through sheet Titanium. So I guess that I’ve come as close as anyone to going nuclear.
Recently, I learned that, except for the queen, all wasps die in the fall so victory – for what it’s worth – is assured.