Wednesday, 4 May 2011
A sting in the tail
A cautionary story about living too close to nature
Despite having lived in the country for over ten years, I had somehow avoided two inevitable painful treats which rural living has to offer: a jolt from an electric fence, and a wasp sting. These are mundane and common events to most, but my own initial experiences, within a week or two of each other, possibly deserve sharing.
I’ve always been leery of farm fences, and tend to treat them all as ‘live’ with such care that I’ve been accused of ‘big girls’ bloused-ness’ many times, mostly by Rose. I’ve hardly led a pain-free existence so far, but have never seen the point in suffering any more than is absolutely necessary, either.
After a recent sustained period of rainy weather, I spent a day digging to widen the banks of one of our streams which had overflowed. My modest landscaping effort was enthusiastic enough to open up a large space under our boundary fence that could possibly allow sheep to escape through. So I began threading plastic fence standards between the wires of the fence to hang down above the water and make this a less attractive proposition for roaming romneys. Running out of standards I found a long branch to fill in the last gap, so stood in the stream and began attaching it to the fence.
Unfortunately, this piece of wood was not only much longer than the standards but also soaking-wet, and as I was concentrating on the lower wires, it touched the top-most, electric one.
I’ve read that wood isn’t a conductor, but the sentence must have continued over the page to say "unless it’s wet". For full effect, it might also be recommended that you stand in a stream, while making yourself part of an electrical circuit.
Let’s just say that this was no little sting - it actually felt as if someone very heavy had suddenly dropped out of a tree onto my shoulders, Robin Hood-style, kicking my arm hard in the process. My only consolation is that the sound of running stream water masked my loud, girly squeal.
But speaking of ‘stings’ the main event happened several days earlier.
I’ve always tried to maintain a live and let live relationship with most creatures, insects included. The first time I ever became aware of a wasp nest on our previous property, I decided that it was far away enough from the house not to cause us a problem, and left them alone. Shortly afterwards, Rose began to keep bees and then we became quickly aware of how devastatingly destructive wasps can be, as they began to raid and finally completely exterminated our first hive. Sadly, this wasn’t to be the last time Rose lovingly nurtured a beehive only to see them fall prey to these rapacious marauders. Needless to say, our attitude towards wasps changed. They had invaded and wiped out a peaceful neighbouring state, and we had no choice but to declare war. Transmittable poison was out of the question, as this can also destroy the very beehives which you are trying to protect. The best advice we had found was to locate the wasp nest (not always easy), then return at night when they’re relatively dormant, drop a petrol-soaked rag inside and sealing up the entrance to let the fumes do their work. I’m not proud of this, but Rose and I were so angry and grief-stricken at the loss of our first hive that this method seemed too passive by far. We introduced petrol into the wasp nest alright, and then promptly dropped a lit match into the entrance and ran. This isn’t to be recommended, but the eyebrow-singeing gout of flame that erupted and then burned for some time afterwards was enormously satisfying – and effective.
Despite similar encounters with wasps over the years I have never been on the receiving end of the delivering end of one of these vicious flying syringes of venom, until recently. The Wairarapa rail timetable means that I often have to leave the container very early in the morning to catch my train, in pitch darkness. I’ve always tried to disturb Rose as little as possible during this process – so leave my ‘schoolbag’ packed and my clothes folded up on a chair, enabling me to dress by torchlight and leave with the minimum of fuss.
Quietly getting ready on one dark morning, I was shocked to feel a sudden sharp pain as I pulled my underpants on. Still partially asleep, I stood dimly wondering how a sewing needle could possibly have fallen in there, before a sudden, angry buzzing issued from my crotch, and I was instantly wide-awake. I debriefed at lightning speed and to my absolute horror, the much-feared, black and yellow shape of a wasp fell out onto the floor and began to crawl away into the shadows.
Clearly it had flown in at some point through the always-open cat window and thought it had found the perfect, soft bed for the night in the folds of my underwear. Very fortunately for me, the combination of the dark and cold meant that the disturbed insect was also partially asleep – if it had been wide awake and I’d suffered a ‘multiple stabbing’ I’d probably have needed a wheelbarrow to get myself to work.
The initial sting was bad enough, but gradually the venom began to circulate and I spent the entire day gingerly padding around, feeling as if I’d been kicked in the groin. I can testify that wasp venom has none of the qualities of Viagra – quite the opposite, in fact.
Looking back, I can afford to be a little philosophical - after years of petrol bombing wasp nests perhaps I had this coming. And as doubtlessly unpleasant as this situation had been for me, I still wouldn’t have wanted to swap places with that wasp for anything.