03 September 2009

Death with a spray can

Standing above the yellow jacket’s nest with a can of Raid in my hand, I towered like an omnipotent god. I had, to paraphrase Robert Oppenheimer’s famous reiteration of the Bhagavad-Gita, “become Death.”
I saw the nest a few weeks ago, after I’d mowed right over it without even knowing it was there. Standing outside talking to the neighbors over the fence, I noticed motion out of the corner of my eye, and turned to see yellow flits in the distance, coming and going out of a hole in the ground. I slowly walked over to within five feet of it, and saw the hole. It was about two inches across, and Yellow Jackets diligently exited and entered, not taking exception to my presence.
I always joke that one of my pet peeves is flying insects. Twenty years ago, they became the bane of my childhood when I stepped on a wasp nest in some loose grass clippings while trying to reach a glider. I looked down and saw wasps crawling up my little legs, stinging and biting me. I screamed, and ran two laps around the house at full speed trying to get away from them. I was terrified of anything that flew for the next 10 years or so, which proved embarrassing, as the simple sight of a bee or hornet near me would cause me to freeze mid-sentence.
Eventually, I grew over my fear, and took great delight in destroying the pests wherever I found them. I would ambush bumblebees with a Super Soaker, and look in amazement at the naked black bug a direct hit would leave behind. Hit with a powerful enough stream, I could blast every hair off their bodies. I would terminate nests with extreme prejudice, taking great delight in my complete superiority over a subspecies. In time, my anger faded, and I stopped delighting in these activities, as I realized that life is something sacred, despite the fact that it can sting you, and that I shouldn’t seek out what I dislike in order to destroy it.
I was almost sad walking up to the yellow jackets’ nest yesterday afternoon. They were, as before, oblivious to my presence. I thought back to a podcast I’d been listening to earlier in the day about General Curtis LeMay, the man who ordered the firebombing of Tokyo during World War II, and how the yellow jackets, like the 100,000 Japanese killed in the first firebombing raid over Tokyo, had no idea that this single visitor was the harbinger of their impending doom.
I came back that night, and emptied the entire can into the hole without ceremony or apology. I’ll dig it up when I get home from work tonight, just to make sure I got it all, and I’m sure I’ll discover dozens, and maybe hundreds, of dead yellow jackets – a sight that used to thrill me, but now, reminds me only that life is fleeting, at times cruel, and that there is always someone bigger that may have plans to stomp or spray you.

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