Sunday, July 24, 2005

Spray-Can Commando

I'm not what you'd call the bravest person in the world, but only three things really, truly scare me:

1. The Bush Administration
2. Heights
3. Yellowjackets (and other non-bee stinging insects)

That last item has persisted since childhood. I remember being stung on a number of occasions, which in a kid's memory probably translates to two or three times. I'm not sure whether this is true, but it's said that people can further develop allergies to stings after each successive sting. To the best of my knowledge, I'm not allergic, but why take chances? The last time one of those ill-tempered bugs stung me, I was 22 and decorating a friend's car at his wedding reception. Sort of put a damper on the rest of my afternoon, that did.

Mind you, I'm not really afraid of bees. Bees have a reason for being -- two, if you're keeping count. They make honey, and they help pollinate the flowers on all sorts of plants. They're also rather mild-mannered critters until they feel threatened enough to retaliate. Deep down, I think bees know that they die when they sting you. They'd rather go about their little bee lives without confrontation, thank you very much. Bumblebees are cute (for bugs), and even mellower by nature than honeybees.

On the other hand, yellowjackets (and wasps, and hornets) have absolutely no reason for living, except to ruin picnics and sting you for the fun of it. Unlike bees, they don't die when they sting, so they're more likely to resort to the old stingeroo in any given situation. If they serve even a single useful purpose on this earth, I sure don't know about it. Even mosquitoes are food for dragonflies and bats.

Anyway, I can't help freaking when a yellowjacket has invaded my personal space. Snakes? I like 'em. Mice? No big deal. Spiders? They're not as charming as dragonflies, but they're okay. Just let a yellowjacket fly within half a mile of me and I'm ready to hit the deck, screaming. If one gets into the house by accident, I'll track it down and hammer it to death for half an hour with my shoe while the dogs look on in amazement. "Maybe this isn't the best time to ask Mom for a biscuit." "Yathink?"

Last week, I was outside performing the old routine canine sanitation tasks in the fenced dog yard when I noticed something unusual hanging between the dog fence and the back of the garage. It turned out to be a softball-sized paper yellowjacket nest, and the bugs around it appeared to be very busy. I fought down the urge to run screaming for the nearest blowtorch and thought: How should I get rid of this thing?

Wait for the first hard frost? Nah. It's only July, and I wouldn't go outside again until October at the earliest.

Get Greg to remove it? Only if I feel like making a little side trip to the ER afterward.

Blowtorch? Satisfying, but it would probably be kind of bad for the fence and the garage.

Liquid nitrogen? Hard to come by.

I finally settled on the use of guerrilla tactics: Wait until nighttime, when all the yellowjackets are asleep in their nest (no doubt dreaming little yellowjacket dreams of stinging whole cities of people), and then sneak down there with a flashlight and soak the nest with an entire can of Raid. They wouldn't know what hit 'em, and I'd stop obsessing about the nest.

Last night about midnight, I decided it was time to make my pre-emptive strike. Armed with the flashlight in my left hand and the Raid in my right, I tiptoed down the stairs (wouldn't want to wake them). After worrying for a minute that they might awaken when they saw the beam from the flashlight, I opened fire with the spray can.

Did you know that the insecticide in spray cans is just liquid enough that when it comes in contact with insect-nest paper, the paper melts? Well, it does. As the nest melted half away and the opening at the bottom grew larger and larger, I was sure I'd see a cloud of avenging yellowjackets emerge from it, ready to repay me for the attack. None came. All the same, I beat it out of there, back up the stairs, and into the house before they forgot that yellowjackets don't fly at night. It took a few minutes for my heart to stop pounding, and to stop expecting the sound of an angry swarm knocking on the back door.

Greg asked, "Did you get them?"

"Yeah." I refrained from blowing across the top of the spray can, Hollywood-cowboy style, before replacing the cap.


Sharon said...

You might like to file away this little tidbit of information for future use. Full-strength Basic H (from Shaklee) will devastate just about any insect, stinging and otherwise. Amazing, but true.

Barbara W. Klaser said...

I have the same identical fears. In fact my first sting was from a yellowjacket, in Oregon, when I was four. Two stings, in fact. Nasy little buggers.

I hope you get rid of your nest.