I want to tell a little story about an unlikely truce between two species who are normally adversaries -- me and some hornets. A couple of months ago I noticed that there was a hornet nest under the railing of our back deck. It was small, about the size of an eight ball, and I forgot about it. A few weeks later, the nest had doubled in size and the hornets were more active. I am against spraying for a number of reasons, because it is heartless and because it poisons the environment. Instead, I decided to knock the nest down. Being a pacifist, at least in principle, if not in consummate practice, destroying the nest was also against my principles because it would cause the hornets to suffer, and I just felt bad about destroying their home. In terms of my things-to-do list, it was at the very bottom. My sense of revulsion at the task I was preparing to undertake was visceral. I therefore put it off for another couple of weeks.
The nest was now the size of a large grapefruit. Finally I decided to take some action. I decided to knock it down during daylight to give the hornets a chance to recover and reconnoiter. I pictured leaving the cats in and the hornets swarming around the fallen nest on the ground. After a few hours of initial confusion I figured they would divide up; some would rebuild while others would start another nest somewhere or maybe most of them would just, sadly, disperse and I would eventually be able to forgive myself and forget about them. I duck-taped a hoe to a broom handle, which put about ten feet between me and the nest and used the hoe blade to sort of push the nest down. I thought it would release and fall, giving me a chance to safely withdraw. The nest did not release. It was much more resilient than I thought it would be. All I managed to do was damage it before I had to back off and concede failure. The hornets went crazy, swarming within 6-10 feet of the nest, but within a few hours they had settled down, like people after a hurricane, and all their energy went to inspecting the damage.
The next day I kept the cats in and watched the hornets begin to rebuild. I girded my heart, determined not to let them repair the nest because if they stayed we would not be able to use the deck for the last months of summer. I replaced the hoe with a flat scraper to remove it at its base. I waited a day to build up my will for the unpleasantness of upsetting them again. This time I was more focused, plotting exactly where I wanted to come in with the blade, my goal being two-fold, to dislodge the nest and to minimize the casualties. Once again, the nest resisted my best efforts. I was able to scrape off half the nest and the same chaos followed. The bees angrily swarmed, looking for their nemesis but settled down in a couple of hours to inspect the damage. The next day, they were rebuilding.
Within a week the nest was round again. It was a little misshapen but the hive recovered. Now about a month later some kind of truce has set in. The hornets have not bothered us or our cats. My wife and I just avoid their territory which extends about 6 feet from the railing. I notice that they added one interesting feature to the architecture: there is an entrance (a hole) facing the porch. I guess they want to keep their eye on us. We have made some concessions to their presence. We do not entertain on the deck and we do not act in a way that might alarm them. Except for that, we have learned to live with them. In a month or so, with the first frost, they will all naturally perish and our summer with the hornets will be over.
What have I learned? From now on I will look for hornets' nests wherever we intend to spend time and if I find one I will knock it down before it grows. I do not regret that I didn't spray. That will continue to be against my principles even though when I tell this story to people we know, even if they don't, out of politeness, I know that they want to shake their heads at my foolishness... but I really wish everyone would stop spraying all insects. What it boils down to is, I have to live with myself, and I love all the creatures, even the ones with terrible tempers and stingers. I am still trying to extend that love to my own species. I may be making some progress but, between you and me, I have a ways to go.
(Article changed on September 3, 2019 at 15:44)