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Meditations: A Series of Essays on Awareness

This article as published in the March issue of Spirit Journal, a Pacific Northwest newspaper discussing spiritual subjects:

HORNET'S LESSON

By Kriss Erickson

When we first moved to an overgrown, wetland/woodland property in South Everett, I saw amid the tangled foliage a diamond in the rough. Crawling with blackberries, morning glory vines and alder saplings, much of the ground was impassible.

And yet it was full of unexpected things—surprises just waiting to come into my awareness. For instance, about a week after we moved in, as my husband, Michael, and I emptied a rickety storage area, we noticed an unusual stump. Though it was just an ordinary Douglas fir stump, it was moving. In fact, it looked as if it were breathing.

My seven year-old son thought this was a great adventure. Eager to discover what was making the stump move, he began shredding the pulpy wood with his bare hands. I suggested a more cautious approach. As I used a garden spade to carefully separate the spongy wood, a gray head popped into view. We all laughed as a mole clumsily climbed out of the stump and quickly burrowed into the damp earth.

I still don't know how a normally ground-dwelling animal like a mole ended up in the middle of a rotting stump. But from the beginning, this property has called me to become aware of hidden or unusual things.

So I should have known better the following summer when my husband and I were clearing brush and weeds in preparation to plant a `secret garden' toward the back of our property. The ground was loamy and smelled so good and rich that I envisioned my roses growing large and beautiful there. I was so involved in my daydream that I didn't pay attention to where I was digging.

I should explain that a week or so earlier, our American rat terrier, Rizzo, had run to us for help with a yellowjacket that was clinging to his side. Yellowjackets had been making our land their home for years before we arrived, so we tried to respect their presence. It was challenging to actually welcome them, especially when they acted like nosy neighbors, showing up uninvited at picnics and barbeques and insisting on their share.

So I should have known to be aware of my surroundings even before my shovel hit the particularly soft patch of dirt around a rotting stump. Instead, I thought how easily my roses' roots would grow in the crumbly earth. I worked on removing the small stump while my husband cut blackberry vines a short distance away.

Suddenly I felt a light `ping' on my right foot. I looked down and couldn't believe what I saw. All I could think was, “Oh no, I've really done it this time!”

From my sockless feet inside my heavy black clogs to the knees of my jeans, I was covered with a solid mass of yellowjackets. Hundreds of the small hornets clung to my body. That they had climbed on me so silently seemed amazing when I saw where I was standing. The `soft earth' in which my feet had sunk was actually the interior of the yellowjackets' large, wheel-shaped nest.

The sharp `ping' I'd felt wasn't a sting but an experimental nip from one of the hornets to determine if I was a threat or not. I'd destroyed their nest. I was definitely a threat. What to do? If I ran, they'd cloud up and sting me. If I stood still, they'd eventually realize I was a nest invader and sting me.

Did I mention I was also absolutely terrified of hornets and of being stung? Now what a mess I was in, all because I failed to be as aware of my surroundings as I knew to be.

Panic took over. I ran, falling, getting up, calling to Michael, “Help! Bees! Help! Bees!”

My husband, a quick thinker, used his gloved hands to scoop as many of the hornets off of my legs as he could, while we both ran toward the house. By the time we'd dashed out of the wooded area and across a short bridge, most of the hornets had been left behind where they formed a huge, buzzing tower over their ruined nest. Only one yellowjacket still clung to my jeans

Michael used his gloved hand to remove the stubborn hornet. I ran to the house since the hornets had my scent so were still hunting for me. Amazingly, though I'd been covered with at least 500 yellowjackets, I counted only seven stings.

And yet.

And yet, because I had allowed myself to be unaware in a place that had repeatedly shown me how full of life and wonder it was, the huge, industrious yellowjacket nest was destroyed. After the hornets dissipated, my husband unearthed their nest. Buried beneath the stump in our backyard, the hornets' empire had consisted of two, two-foot wide wheels filled with tiny compartments that housed food and larval yellowjackets.

And yet, when I'd entered their beautifully constructed home uninvited and unannounced, the hornets had treated me with more restraint than most human families would if I'd come crashing through their roof. Instead of a devastating attack, they'd given me a warning nip—a hint that raised my awareness level and gave me time to get away from the nest.

My human tendency to be unaware of what's under my feet caused me to miss a lot. Though I'd cost them their home, the hornets left me with a wonderful gift—a deeper sense of awareness that I've carried with me ever since.

Though the yellowjackets have continued to nest on our property, I've found their nests each year and have marked them off with hazard tape so that my family can live in harmony with our yard's indigenous creatures.

Strangely enough, since I crashed through the hornets' nest, my deep fear of them has vanished. In its place is a deep respect, tempered with a healthy dose of awareness, for the creatures that share my space.

END

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Page Last Revised: April 30, 2007