Before plunging you, dear reader, mercilessly into the deep end of this month’s #HomesteadHorror, here’s an excerpt from my journal a few weeks before calamity came to our clearing.
July 31st, 2022
Our nephews left this morning —something about school and having to make something of themselves. And just like that our house and homestead feel bigger, quieter, decidedly cleaner, and (if I’m entirely honest with myself) just a little bit . . . empty. I’d forgotten how much I love teenagers. The extra help around the homestead wasn’t too unwelcome either.
The day was long and hot, so we stayed out of its way as much as we could until the mercy of the evening bathed our clearing in a shadowy silhouette of forest backed by a yellow-fingered sunset. While Papa and The Captain (our seven-year-old son) worked on project No-More-Dragging-Hoses-Around, Goldilocks (our three-year-old daughter) took my hand and led me, “come along, Mama,” to harvest chamomile before the —you guessed it— watering hours began.
Goldilocks began beheading chamomile flowers with glee and plopping them into the colander . . . and occasionally into her mouth. Immediately I felt my spirits rise with the first raking pluck-pluck-pluck of my fingers. Chamomile harvesting is one of my favorite chores. I’m astounded every day how the lacy fronds once again sport countless miniature daisy-looking delights after having been stripped and left entirely unadorned just two evenings prior. Add to that the incredible fragrance that accompanies the harvest and it’s truly a heavenly homestead experience.
As we harvested —me with two hands scoop-raking, catching multiple flowers between my fingers at a time, and Goldilocks pluck-plop-pluck-plopping one bud at a time with her thumb and forefinger— I was once again lost in a sort of meditative trance that often finds me when I’m standing over a bed of herbs. I love vegetable gardening, and I’m learning to enjoy fruit farming, but I’m an herbalist at heart.
The bright sun fell on the white and yellow flowers and glittered on Goldilocks’ bobbing curls. The sweet smell of sun-warmed chamomile burst in the hot evening air around us as our hands worked over the velvety sepals and satin petals. Suddenly I became aware that our party was not just two girls among the chamomile. Everywhere I looked were insects —bees, butterflies, lady beetles— all harvesting just like us. I smiled as my thoughts got carried away with the hopelessly romantic concept that we were all together in this harvesting dance over the chamomile.
There are so many varieties of bees up here in the forest; bumblebees (some black, some yellow, some zebra-striped), tiny black and iridescent sapphire mountain bees you’ll miss if you aren’t still for a moment, a stray honeybee every once and a while, and half a dozen others I haven’t gotten a close enough look at yet to identify. All were present and accounted for, hovering from bud to bud —the mountain bees exercising moderation as they lightly dusted their slender legs, like 1980’s supermodels pulling on nylons before a show . . . the bumblebees packing the pollen on their already-golden thunder thighs, like toddlers sporting giant water wings, bobbing along at a pool party. Butterflies flit amongst them, up and over in a gentle, careless sort of ballet —not once bumping beauties— harvesting tiny drops of nectar. Beneath all the hubbuzz, ladybugs crawled up and down stems doing some harvesting of their own in the form of electric green aphids, plump for the picking.
And me and my little beauty—harvesting sweet midsummer together, to dry and store and steep on snow-covered winter days. The sun-kissed buds, bees, butterflies, beetles, and little blond head will all be happily harnessed within glass jars in my tea cupboard, ready to awaken with a dousing of hot water before leaping from my cup to dance over my head as I sip the sweetness of summer by the fire.
It doesn’t take long for sweet things to spoil. I learned that the hard way one time with a pint of maple syrup. Hold on fast to those gentle, bountiful, joy-filled, or downright giddy moments in life, my friends. Crisis is inevitably around the corner. Fast forward just two weeks after, and my tone is not half so enchanted or poetic as it was the evening above that I scribbled down my romantic takeaways for the day.
Our little plot of heaven began raising hell a couple weeks ago, with Papa as the first victim. He came thudding in from the garden uttering all the child-appropriate curse words he could think of. Some kind of wasp had swooped down on him the moment he had reached for the spigot in an all-out water rights ambush. The striped assassin bit and stung him on his arm before he could get away from the damn thing. Come to find out, unlike other types of wasps, hornets and yellowjackets are the over-achieving members of their species in that they actually bite first IN ORDER TO GET A GOOD STRONGHOLD FROM WHICH TO STING YOU BETTER. Oh the horrors you can discover in a quick Google search.
But oddly enough, it was the principle of the matter that got Papa’s dander up more than the actual pain of a double blow. “The darn thing! Guarding MY well water!” Water. The war of the future (or present, depending on where you hail from). The next attack came a couple of days later, again with Papa as victim but this time IN OUR BED. Hornet Hell indeed. With one wild leap, Papa somehow propelled himself out of bed without the use of his limbs. It looked like one of those Dick Van Dyke maneuvers —like a spindly puppet defying gravity and basic anatomy at the same time. I stood in our bedroom with my hand cupped over my mouth in a gasp-laugh as it all unfolded.
The injustice of the water-rights attack of August 3rd, 2022 seemed like a mere squabble compared to the quite literally below-the-belt bombing of August 5th, 2022. That’s right. The hornet had crawled down his pants and delivered its double-punch a few inches below the naval. There, the intruder met her quick demise with a “DON’T YOU DARE GO DOWN THERE” smack. We both fully inspected the sheets and duvet before putting a toenail back in that bed.
The following week was like gardening in a war-torn country. The wasps were pouring out of every crevice, crook, and cranny in truly shocking numbers. The lovely buzz and bumble of peaceful joyriders from just a week gone by was suddenly overtaken by an angry patrolling of fighter jets. No wonder the Boeing F/A-18’s are called Super Hornets. Every trip to the garden felt like a frantic dash. Swarms of wasps, yellowjackets, hornets (who cares?) chased us from the tomatoes, fruit trees, and every spigot on the lot. They claim-jumped the hummingbird feeders, actually sipping the nectar and chasing off the hummingbirds before they could get in more than a dreg. A militia had even set up camp around Yeti and was guarding his water dish and bowl of dog food, wiggling and wrestling over every wet morsel that fell from his mouth.
A few days after the bedroom attack and it was my turn to feel the enemy’s sting. I was down below the house raking up dry grass by the wheelbarrow full to nestle around the potatoes just putting on their violet blooms when I got swarmed. August 6th in my journal reads, succinctly: “The only thing madder than a disturbed hornet is a disturbed woman when one bites her.” And so, we declared war. I woke up the next morning, retrieved my rake, and instated my revenge.
August 7th, 2022
For Papa and the kids, today was all about the Skyfort [putting up a play structure], but for me —today was war on the wasps. I raided the garden shed, hanging my hopes on the reliable, responsible nature of the previous owner. Mr. Reliable pulled through again —three wasp traps at the ready. I sighed in gratitude and relief that Mr. R’s moving truck had maxed out before he made it to the garden shed and that Mrs. R had told him “it’s the shed or your elk mount. Take your pick.” I don’t need to tell you what he chose, one because I already gave it away, and two . . . we’re talking about the DNA of a male Montanan. I got those traps up and scouted where to put twenty more as soon as a trip to Lowe’s could be managed. The hornets were swarming each trap even as I was hanging them. Then, I stood and watched each neon temptress welcome her first victims —slurping them up one by one like a silent vacuum cleaner. This may be the most blood thirst I’ve ever felt rising up inside me in my life. I even uttered profanities in my head regarding the victims’ supposed illegitimate births. It’s true then what they say —war will mess a person up.
Three days of sadistic serenity passed. I went out every morning first thing, even before breakfast, to happily inspect my torture chambers and update the death toll. The three traps left to me in the garden shed are a reusable hard plastic chamber that allows you to see your victims in crystal clear clarity. And the whole enterprise is wholly nontoxic, which is crucial to this whole *holistic* thing where chemical warfare is not an option. But I wanted more. Lots’ more. Unfortunately, Lowe’s was sold out. All they had left were the disposable plastic bag version and a measly three at that. My zeal deflated. “We’ve been sold out of wasp traps for weeks . . . we can’t keep them on the shelf!” said the sales associate ironically wearing the name tag “Hope” . . . you can’t make this stuff up. Apparently, I’m not the only one at war with the wasps around here. Oh well, three traps would have to do. I’d check Home Depot later in the week.
Thankfully, Lowe’s out of stock items made for a happy mistake. Those disposable hornet bags are the real bang for your buck, my friends! You may not be able to see each hornet’s death in full HD like their hard plastic counterparts, but the sheer numbers make up for it —300 estimated for each half inch marking on the bag. Yeah, baby! In addition, they seem to be odorless in addition to chemical free . . . a rare combination as I’ve learned with oh-so-stinky fly traps. But that’s a topic for another day.
Day one, the first 300 wasps met a bitter end in the sweet syrup. Day two, and at least 700 were in the sugar soup. But by day three, my sweet taste of victory began to taste stale in my mouth as realism began to sink in. Our death toll was easily approaching a thousand wasps and yet . . . we weren’t really noticing a decrease in air patrol yet. It looked like there would never be an end to the reinforcements. Grizzly thoughts of mother-load hives lurking in the forest began to haunt us. Then, the inevitable happened.
August 11th, 2022
It was the evening drill tonight —water, weed, make dinner— until it finally happened. “Ouch! It got me under the eye!” At first, we thought he was teasing. “Fooled you!” is one of The Captain’s favorite games of the summer. Kids find such inventive ways to pass the hours of the day. But when the tears started, we knew this was not a little-boy-crying-yellowjacket moment. Sure enough, the little striped spawn from hell had nailed our little boy’s under eyelid. The Captain snarled every curse a seven-year-old boy can think of —”booger-butt,” “dumb-nut,” “moron,” “turd-bucket”— through hot, gritted teeth framed by tears on inflamed cheeks. I remained Zen-calm on the outside, but I was ready to go full kamikaze underneath.
We put The Captain to bed with a freezer-pack eye patch and assurances that “it will feel better in the morning, honey,” but in my head I swore an even deeper revenge on the legions of demons patrolling outside from dawn ’til dusk. It’s time to take back the homestead.
And so, I did what all good, red-blooded, American moms do . . . I hopped onto Amazon. Sure enough, those non-toxic wasp bags can be ordered in a pack. And . . . hey, howdy, hey . . . they are made in the USA! And . . . they come as a Subscribe & Save item to boot. Heh, heh, heh. Click and click. No trips to town necessary, that’s my jam. [The link provided here is an affiliate link. Please know, I only post products that I truly love and recommend!]
It’s been almost two weeks now since our war on the wasps began. As a family we’ve suffered one more attack (Mama’s turn again) but together we’ve killed somewhere around 1500. The Captain has been bitten but is not twice shy. In the past week, he has been reading all he can about wasps and sharing generously with me all his horrific findings. “Mama! Did you know that a man once had an old car on his property and one day he found a wasp nest inside it that filled the ENTIRE car?” There was even a picture to prove it. Thanks, son.
In spite of all the fun facts about wasps to torment my dreams, I’ve been pleased to see our son take a “fight” rather than a “flight” approach following his bite. Surprisingly, he does not appear to be the least bit concerned about risking another bite. In fact, he and Papa have a new nightly pastime on the back porch of “Whop-the-Wasp” involving all kinds of guerilla warfare —using hoses, shoes, and whatever is handy to, well, whop the wasp. They even use their victim’s dead bodies as bait to lure cannibal comrades. Gulp. Even Yeti has joined their ranks, snapping wasps in his jaws and then swallowing the contents. Yeti is either incredibly skilled at this maneuver or Great Pyrenees, as a breed, traded in their pain receptors long ago for an extra helping of “frankly-madame-I-don’t-give-a-damn.” Oftentimes, half an hour passes before their thirst for blood is tamped down by an even greater force. Hunger. They tromp proudly upstairs to announce the death toll —thirty is the reigning high score— and successfully ruin my appetite with reenactments of the battle, complete with war cries such as “I love guts!” Hurray for dinner theatre.
Combined, our family’s counterattacks against Hornet Hell have finally led to a noticeable decrease in air traffic and a return to more peaceful trips to the garden. I still am not permitted to do yoga on my own back deck (not so namaste, guys) and the water wars continue, but I’m hoping for some good, old-fashioned colony collapse at the loss of so many workers. Six more traps go up today as the death toll continues. Even as I typed up this post from our front porch, I had to drop my computer a dozen times and battle wasps with my son’s sneaker. But that’s ok. There is a yin and a yang to this homestead thang. As James Prigioni always says, “the best thing about the garden is it’s a paradise for all. The worst thing about the garden is it’s a paradise for all.” If you think about it, that just about sums up life, wouldn’t you agree?
There will always be some hornet hell in pollinator’s paradise. And maybe that’s a good thing, even for no other reason than to keep us all on our toes. Our war on the wasps has taught us a lot about the balance of the insect world up here in our mountain clearing. On one hand, hornets suck. On the other hand, they eat grasshoppers (another plague of ours) and do a fair amount of pollinating even if by accident. We may even have the hornets to thank in the near future for putting some fire under our tails (literally) to start building that chicken coop. We’ve got Bill Mollison’s voice in our heads saying, “you don’t have a snail problem. You have a duck deficiency.” I have yet to see a snail on our homestead, but the principle remains the same: the food chain up here needs some balancing.
We’re not singing “The Circle of Life” just yet, and in fact, at the current moment we’re stuck on the endless replay of “Another One Bites the Dust.” But we’ll keep taking it one day at a time. As for today, we’re working our darndest to change the term “Murder Hornet” into a verb.
Thank you for reading! As always, you make our day.
Keep up the good fight, my friends!
Love, ~Our Holistic Homeschool~