clock menu more-arrow no yes
A wasp collects pollen from a flower in a garden outside Moscow. Around the globe, experts are reporting this year is “the worst ever” for wasps.
A wasp collects pollen from a flower in a garden outside Moscow. Around the globe, experts are reporting this year is “the worst ever” for wasps.
YURI KADOBNOV, Getty

Filed under:

Wasps, or how to see what’s right there

While this year — of course — is ”the worst ever” for wasps, figuring out the depth of the problem can still be a challenge.

Did you miss the warning about this summer being especially bad for wasps? Yeah, me too. Even though our 115-year-old farmhouse has all sorts of eaves and hollows, places where wasps gather.

Though you believe it, right? Of course you do. If you’re like me, the one-damn-thing-after-another quality of the past year has led to dull acceptance of almost any horror.

If I ran into a neighbor carrying a bucket of water and a ladle, and he explained, “It’s for the burning frogs falling from the sky. They scorch the lawn, but a quick ladle of water fixes that,” I’d shrug and think, “Oh right, the burning frogs. Better get a bucket ...”

Then that’s me. I look at people simply denying one obvious situation or another — COVID, global warming, systemic racism — with blinking incomprehension. It’s ... right ... there. Just ... open your eyes and ... look.

No? Can’t do that? Not into the whole perceiving-what’s-in-front-of-you game? I guess that’s your way of coping with the stress of bad stuff: ”If I don’t see it, it’s not there.” But c’mon buddy, graduate kindergarten, put on your big-boy pants and join the adults.

Yes, grasping trouble can be a process. The tendency is to ignore or minimize problems. Most summers, the wasps spout from a chink in the brick foundation in front of our house. Out of harm’s way.

This summer, naturally, the wasps took up residence under the window box jutting onto the porch, inches from our front door. As we came and went, we’d see wasps coming and going, a wasp parody of our routine. Still, a situation I can handle, or so I thought. I’m not immune to underestimating perils.

Off to the Ace Hardware for a couple cans of wasp-be-gone. Then two more. Then four more. Then another three. I’d fire the murderous foam into the hole then stand as the alarm went out and the wasps arrived at their besieged home, only to be picked off, one by one. There was a grim satisfaction to it.

My wife wondered if perhaps we should call the exterminator. No need, honey, I told her. Why spend a fortune when a few 2-for-$5 cans of Wasp Away will do the trick? Prudence! And patience!

After a few days of this I fancied I was knocking back the wasp horde. Yes, I got stung, twice. And when I went to paint the porch steps, I noticed a second hole where wasps were also coming and going, so started firing wasp spray into that.

Then as I stood, patiently, slaying wasps at the window box, I saw a straggler flying, not to my side of the box or the steps, but to the far side of the window box. A third entrance. So I relocated there, and was spritzing liquid death at the flying beasties.

My wife was inside, watching me through the bay window, a look of concern — needless concern, I felt — on her face.

Then she did something I would not have done had I dealt with this problem for 100 years, because she is a genius. Or perhaps because she is a woman, with all the resourcefulness that allows women, on average, to live five years longer than men.

She put her ear to the wooden seat of the window box and listened. I reacted — and this is the reason I’m writing this, so pay attention — with a scowl of scorn, and thought, “Oh right, like you’re going to hear the wasps.”

When I finished spraying wasps and went inside and also pressed my ear against the window box seat.

Ah.

To say it “buzzed” would be a mockery of the terrifying sound I heard. It sounded like every wasp on earth gathered in one place. A dull roar. I haven’t been to hell, yet, but I am confident it sounds exactly like this.

“Call the exterminator!” I announced, straightening up. She did. Only $125. “They’re deadly this year,” said Bob, from Aerex Pest Control. “They’ll kill you.” Not unless I kill them first.

Looking at that journey, from Why-Is-She-Listening-to-the-Window-Box-Is-She-Crazy? to My-God-Call-the-Exterminator-NOW I wonder why so many of my fellow citizens can’t follow the same path regarding, say, COVID.

Maybe because I’m trained, through disposition and profession, to take in new information, no matter how unwelcome, process it and then act. Even if it requires changing my mind and my course of action.

I’ve said before: Once you start ignoring reality, then the reality being ignored doesn’t matter, whether 630,000 Americans dead, regular firestorms or an ocean of transparent bigotry.

We need to find the COVID version of the sound of thousands of wasps living in your window box. Maybe get a few videos of intubated children on Twitter. That might not work either, when dealing with stone denialists, the type who wrote off Sandy Hook as a hoax performed by crisis actors. Hard cases. They can be dying themselves, and it still doesn’t dawn on them that COVID might be real.

The cold response would be, “Let ‘em die, and increase the average intelligence of our nation.” But that’s heartless and reeks of the callous cruelty that the Right has already trademarked. I hate to mimic them.

Besides, children are involved, and it’s not their fault their parents are idiots. So let’s put it this way: The wasps were there whether I listened or not. A problem doesn’t stop existing just because you won’t perceive it. Wake up.

Editorials

Democracy needs votes of support from every American

Columnists

The pandemic upended all of our lives in ways we never expected

Letters to the Editor

Chicago police command staff carry just as much blame as their leader

View all stories in Commentary