Massacre

I was gone from the house only a day and a half. Two nights. When I drove up, I felt that something wasn’t quite right. The dogsitter was parked in front of the garage so I couldn’t go in the normal way, but that wasn’t even it. I parked and grabbed my weird bundle of stuff (half a loaf of bread, a sweater that needs new buttons) and trundled in.
I didn’t have to look directly at the hornets’ nest to know that it had been violated. My stomach twisted in recognition before my eyes had registered what had happened. The nest was a damp, wet color, dark and greasy. It was quiet and limp. A dead hornet clung in the entrance, its body curled and its wings aloft. All around it on the siding of the house a great wet stain, glistening with poisonous wasp-killer.
While I was gone–and without my permission–someone came and killed them.
My dog sitter was in the kitchen eating her lunch. I was early, and had taken her by surprise, and I didn’t feel like ruining her lunch, so I said nothing of the stain on the house or the carnage it marked. We talked instead about the dogs. Her puppy brought me toys from the bin. I told her about Captain’s Hanukkah dog; the puppy brought me a Kong. She finished her lunch and left. 
I sobbed for the dead queens.
I realized that I was holding out for the promise of the queens emerging to get me through October. We are leaving. It’s true. October promises to be busy and includes a yet-to-be-scheduled move and packing and the long lists of things to remember. We don’t even have a place to go yet. The landlord has put someone to work scraping and painting outside, so I can no longer go out and see sunset o’clock without getting chips of paint stuck to the bottoms of my feet. No wonder the hornets’ nest was spotted. Someone was helping out.
I texted my husband a string of unintelligible nonsense, but including the word “hyperventilating,” correctly spelled, two times. The hornets were dead. The queens were dead. All their work was for nothing. All my hopeful waiting wasted.
I texted various other people who I knew would sympathize. I sighed a lot. The nest had been almost done. There was no reason to soak it in poison. The nights are getting colder, and the workers were dying off already. The whole future of these bald-faced hornets was in the few queens that were meant to emerge last. They would be over-wintering in the trees. I loved that hornets’ nest. I thought people knew. I talked about it a lot, I took pictures, and now the pictures are all I have.
I avoided going outside, but I couldn’t pack without crying. Finally, I resolved to run an errand. Two errands! I thought. I could do two at once! I exited by the patio door and walked the long way around the garage. I arrived at the drugstore and realized I didn’t even have my wallet. So I had to come all the way back. I finished the errands and collected my basket to go get veggies at the CSA. I played music loud on the way. Really loud. 
Sometimes, the flowers are the best part

At the CSA we got three pounds of potatoes. They are loose in big wooden boxes and coated in a layer of dry dirt. This time I tried to pick ones about the size of hen’s eggs. I got two heads of lettuce and ¾ of a pound of carrots (which was four) and a single head of garlic and a cucumber and a head of cabbage. A bunch of rainbow chard and a bag of arugula (I took less than my allotment since I won’t eat that much in a week). 1 1/2 pounds of onions. I chatted with someone about weighing the 3/4 of a pound of green beans and chose 3 red peppers (that I won’t eat). I went outside to pick 25 flowers and 30 cherry tomatoes and as I tucked them into my overflowing basket I heard a child screaming in the parking lot. Last of all I had four pounds of tomatoes to choose, so I headed to the front where the tomatoes were.
There are several mothers with young kids who also go get their CSA allotment on Tuesdays: one who speaks German and has her hands full with little blond M. who runs away when she calls to him, and another with an earnest four-year-old with large, dark, wet eyes and a mop of almost black hair. They must have reasons for bringing their young children here at the end of the day on Tuesdays and not coming on Saturdays. The hour before dinner is usually the hardest with youngsters. I saw M. disappearing behind a tractor when I came back in with my flowers.
I was weighing my tomatoes when the woman next to me turned to the dark haired boy and his mother, now choosing their carrots, said, “I can see it.”
The small child was flushed from crying, with a tear still balanced on his lashes, and turned and gestured up with a single open palm. “It’s going higher and higher,” he said.
I turned and looked up to see. There in the sky I spied the fast-disappearing pink dot that had been the boy’s balloon. He must have lost it when his mother opened the car door to help him out. And somehow because of what this woman said or what his mother said or because he’s filled with the miraculous bravery of being 4 or because watching things fly is magical and amazing, he was just able to watch the balloon rise impossibly high into the sky, away and away and up and up and up, until it was gone.

Black Jacket, Yellow Jacket

This summer, when we weren’t looking, a huge, paper nest blossomed and fruited and swelled, large and ripe in the doorframe of the house we’ve been renting. I may have noticed it when it was the size of a plum, but the next time I looked, it was the size of a cantaloupe, and abuzz with life. It’s now bigger than a watermelon. The residents are fat and black with creamy white tiled faces and three matching stripes on their abdomens. I idly recognized them as “paper wasps,” because of their oblong, gray and brown striped paper nest. After a couple of weeks I realized the denizens were fatter than the wasps I’d thought were “paper wasps,” so I did a little investigating. There are perhaps 1,100 kinds of “paper wasps.” Our guests are bald-faced hornets, and actually in the same family as yellowjackets. Some folks call them blackjackets.
Depending on the site, Internet searches will either reveal these busy and meticulous nest-builders as aggressive or defensive. Some exterminators say you can’t safely get within three feet.  Others say they’ll leave you alone if you leave them alone. On sunny days, I like to stand a few feet away and watch them fan the entrance.  One or two guards will whizz past my ears when they’ve had enough of me. I can watch as long as I like from the safety of the inside of the garage and get very close. Inside the great gray-brown striped football are many layers of corridors just big enough for the wasps. I have read that they’ll be all gone after the first frost, in mid-October. Only the new queens will survive, overwintering in the bark of nearby trees.
I am practicing being calm and tolerant of them. From what I’ve seen, the advice that only a professional should remove one of these nests is quite sound; because this nest is against the glass of a window, I’ve peered into the chambers. There are many hornets inside, and they are not asleep at night.
The paper nest of  bald-faced hornets

The sky bright and the afternoon just beginning to wane, we pulled our minivan into the long, single-file line of parked cars to wait for the ferry to Anacortes. There was once a snack bar here, a shack of weathered wood with a small deck in the shelter of a grove of towering douglas firs. The kids had piled into a bench on the far side of the table. The youngest was first in. He was 3 or 4 years old.
Those late summer yellowjackets in the Pacific Northwest sting without provocation. They dive into a can of soda. They eat unattended hamburgers. They land on your arm and sting you while you’re standing at a party and not swatting them. They are a known menace.
As we discussed who was getting rootbeer and who was getting 7Up and how many fries we ordered and whether we’d get ketchup, a yellowjacket landed and lingered on my youngest child’s cheek and was crawling towards his eye. He, like all of my kids, was very afraid of being stung.
In my calmest voice, I said, “Hey, dude, there’s a yellowjacket on your face, so close your eyes and hold very still.”
He closed his eyes and did not move. I promised him, with the certainty and truth of adult logic and the power of all mothers, everywhere, and every mother that ever lived, that if he held very still the terrible stinging yellowjacket wasp would fly away on its own. It crawled all over his sticky little face, its abdomen pulsing as it explored the pale tender flesh and even ventured up and tickled his eyelashes.
My other kids were aghast. They were witnessing their worst nightmare, unfolding slowly next to them. They wanted to scream. They wanted to climb across the table away from their lost brother. It was more than they could bear to witness. One had to pile both hands over his mouth to keep from shrieking.
Even my husband wanted to do something– blow on it or swat it. I calmly and silently insisted that it would leave on its own. My husband and I disagreed so strongly on this point that we exchanged ten thousand angry words and ideas, rapidly, fluidly, and without a single sound.
The previous summer I was stung four or five times by one yellowjacket on Lopez Island; it had flown up my pant leg while I was weeding and it had gotten trapped. I ran to the house, tearing my overalls off as I went. I had swatted my leg without looking, and it was the swatting that provoked the stings.
But then, on the deck of the ferry station snack bar, all of our faces agrimace in the various rictus of frozen panic, while the youngest persisted, quiet, relaxed, calm and serene as the terrible yellowjacket prolonged the threat of a painful sting. And as suddenly as the wicked little thing had appeared, the nasty, venom-filled, late-season yellowjacket finally paused in its pulsing and crawling and tasting of the face of my child, whirred its transparent lacy wings and lifted itself into the air. It flew away. No sting. We cheered.