July 12, 2011


Our kitchen has been under attack from an invading army of ants. We have fought them on the countertops and in the dishwasher, from stovetop to island. The front has wavered back and forth as we deployed new weapons to repel the invaders.

Finally, I resolved to go on the offensive and take the battle to the enemy. Spray can in hand, I went out to attack them where they lived. I began by spraying along the base of the house and then around the windows, seeking to interdict the ants’ infiltration routes. In my eagerness to deal with the ant menace, I failed to note a new threat that had arisen on my flank. A flash of yellow was followed by an intense blooming of heat and pain on my thumb. In the time it took the neurons to register the first assault, a second front opened on my left shoulder.

After I beat a hasty retreat and took time to treat my wounds, I returned to the field of battle and did a more thorough reconnaissance. I noticed a wasp hovering around my bird feeder. I walked over and looked underneath and found, in the hollow space under the feeding tube, a gray honeycomb being tended to by a half dozen or so wasps. Some of the insecticide I had been spraying to deter the ants must have drifted too near the wasp nest, provoking a furious counterattack.

I decided to leave them be. After all, the wasps had attacked me only after I had provoked them. I could hardly blame them for refusing to be collateral damage in my war against the ants. Since then, I have looked in on the nest a few times. Always there are wasps busily doing something: either flying in and out, or poking around in the honeycombed structure, or just chilling.

I am struck by their devotion to maintaining and protecting what is theirs. I assume there are wasp progeny being hatched inside at least some of the tubes, which would account for most of the activity. There is a certain delicacy—perhaps tenderness, if that isn’t reaching too far—to their ministrations. The nest is something they care a great deal about. It is the center of their lives. For a brief moment I placed it in peril and was punished accordingly.

We are comrades in arms, those wasps and I. We will defend our homes with whatever it takes. The urge to preserve and protect reaches deep into the heart and soul of every living thing. Lesson learned.

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