Guardians of the Nest: or Attack Of The Killer Yellow Jackets
The night’s storm had passed and the late summer morning dawned shrouded in beauty. Washed clean with the slight chill of autumn, the air refreshed the spirit and renewed the soul. Fluffy, white clouds danced merrily across a sea of blue in celebration.
It was our habit, as a family to take advantage of such weather by taking long hikes in the surrounding wooded hills and grassland. We set out with light feet and high spirits, my husband taking the lead with my son following not far behind. I’m a dawdler. Bringing up the rear, where I would stop at every opportunity to indulge my senses in the delights of nature.
Two hours into an uphill climb we crossed a lovely meadow swaying in waves of sunny goldenrod before coming to an expanse of woodland on the other side. The sun had warmed the air to an almost uncomfortable level and being tired, we decided it was time to turn back. Wanting to stay as much as possible in the shade for the return journey, we started down a trail we’d never been on before.
My son had turned eight that summer and was a happy if somewhat incorrigible child. We’d found an old logging trail and started down it when he broke out in song. His childish voice filled the air with a joyful sound. I’d just begun to hum along when we came up short. Blocking our trail was what seemed to be an unending tangle of briars. Reaching a height of at least ten feet, it was impossible to climb over and too thick to push through.
My husband told us to stay put while he tried to find a way around the bushes. We’d been waiting no more than a minute or two when I felt the first sting. I smacked at my leg, thinking a stray bee had been disturbed by our presence. Then I felt the prick of another and another. I whirled around frantically trying to find the little creature attacking me so ferociously. My brain had finally got around to sending the pain signal—and it was intense.
I heard my son scream and looked at him in horror. He’d turned into a lump of twirling, undulating bees. We’d inadvertently been standing on the nest and their soldiers had attacked in full force. Racing over to him, I reached into that mass of dark living matter and found the edge of his sweatshirt. Grabbing hold I pulled it over what was once his head and began to beat the things off him—forgetting for the moment that I too was being eaten alive. My husband returned, but stayed a safe distance from the battle. His advice—run! Running would do little good if you were carrying your attacker on your person.
I continued to strip him and beat at them until my little boy emerged from the mass. I told him to run and not stop. He did—right through that briar patch that had seemed so impenetrable just moments before. I threw his clothes to the ground and proceeded to strip off my shirt, slapping at my body until they relented somewhat and were swarming around me. Throwing down my bee-covered shirt, I too ran, my pain-racked flesh oblivious to the additional cuts and snags of the briars. The little guys were relentless. It seemed we’d run a mile before they gave up the chase. We stopped to remove the ones still clinging, their stingers firmly imbedded. My hands were so swollen and painful, I no longer felt the stings from the remaining bees.
Shock set in. Shaking, hard to breathe. My son couldn’t stop crying. That old expression of seeing your life flash before your eyes became reality for me that day. Deep inside I felt I was living my last moments of life. I began to pray—make bargains with God, as all God fearing people do in our darkest hours. I promised anything and everything if he’d only allow my little boy to be okay.
We arrived home in our underwear, but embarrassment was the farthest thing from the emotions we felt. We dressed and my husband drove us to the nearest clinic. The doctor wasn’t in, but they gave us his address and we went there. My son and I stayed in the car while my husband went in to talk to the doctor. He returned a few minutes later with the doctor’s sage advice. Aspirin and Ice. He said if it had been more than two hours since the attack and we were still alive—we’d stay that way. Reassuring.
It wasn’t until we returned home we realized the extent of the damage. I was covered with stings over my entire body, so close together it was hard to tell where one stopped and another began. My son had less, but was still about 80% covered; only our feet were spared. They weren’t able to penetrate the leather of our shoes or work their way past our ankles.
It was a long three weeks before we recovered, each week bringing a different kind of pain. We never lost our love of nature or of hiking, but are much more careful. Many yellow jackets died that day protecting their home—we survived.
Copyright Elizabeth Melton Parsons