It is hard to realize that over 70 generations of yellow jacket wasps have bred and deteriorated since they gathered to sting a young boy playing in the woods outside Seattle. Do they carry a genetic memory of the taste of me? I’d almost forgotten that strained relationship until my fairway shot on the 11th hole last week.
At age seven, I of course ran to my mother; she hugged me and put on calamine lotion. There were about 10 red sting-welts on my legs and back. No courage at that age. I broke and ran, and I am sure outran some of them. Nor is there much courage now. That sort of quick-burst running is out of the question these days. And alas, I have no mother to run to.
When I was about 11 however, I became a wasp warrior. I had used some Christmas money to buy a wide-bladed hunting knife and a stone to sharpen it. In my back yard that morning, I was squinting, holding the knife up to the sun to see if my sharpening was good enough. If it was, that no sunlight would shine on the thin metal edge.
But there was another test. In that moment, my peripheral hearing caught the buzz of wings just before my peripheral vision caught the yellow blur headed, stinger first, toward my right buttock. I whirled and slashed all at once. As if returning as some medieval samurai, I saw my flashing blade in slow motion, cutting the wasp clean in half. I had defended my body…and my honor.
Now the honor of yellow jacket wasps is ordinarily not to be trifled with…except by 11 year old boys with sharp hunting knives. That day I was near invincible…Again and again they wandered into my yard, seemingly to smell the flowers but actually to attack me. The word gets around, you know. They came alone or in pairs, but not in hordes, thank goodness. Sometimes I would take on a single yellow jacketed knight head on, following with my knife point as he twisted his way along a straight dive toward me, wristing my quick thrusts in a way I’m sure this creature never seen before, until now, when it was too late.
Sometimes I would swat the leader of a flying pair with the wide blade, and then circle to excise the wing of the wing-man midair. I received only two stings (neither of them mortal) and didn’t even mention them to my mother. Not until now have I ever told anyone what a hero I was that day. (That’s what blogs are for!)
So we had a sort of history, this ancestry of wasps and I, when one member of the current generation boldly landed on my ball. I was pushing by roller toward the next shot, and saw the wasp about ten feet away. It was crawling around on my ball, smelling out all the dimples which must have attracted him with my body oils. Perhaps there is a memory of enemies that lasts in smell through generations. I’d like to think so, because I was pulling out my three wood as cautiously as a hunting knife. And yet…What had this wasp done to me lately? Better to shew him away. Better to let him live.
However, the wasp would have none of it. He was now possessing my ball. As if he were the avenging angel from wasp-centuries back, the yellow jacket looked up at me in defiance…and waggled his behind. That may be wasp talk for “up yours.”
Some golfer voices on remote sides of me asked me if I was going to hit or what, and I gestured for their silence. They retreated to golf good manners as the wasp and I stared at each other. I did a practice swing a foot from the ball, and the bold wasp stayed put. Nothing I could do would move him…except…OK, that’s it then.
For the animal-cruelty people, I will say I watched until the insect had crawled around to the top of the ball. This way I could hit the ball with him on top of it. And what a ride he must have had! Wham! Zero to 150 miles per hour in one one hundredth of a second.
Up near the green I approached my white ball. I was truly hoping he’d not wriggled down between the club and the ball in the last millisecond of his life. But there was no splotch of yellow. In the best of worlds he had flown off, light-headed, to tell his family not to mess with me again, not for a few more generations at least.
Copyright 2020 — David Hon