It was a warm Sunday afternoon and the Wife decided she wanted to visit a small 1/2 acre pond on our property that is nestled between a ridge and surrounded by trees. The pond had been created decades ago by a farmer that dammed a creek and cut a channel through the ridge wall to allow the water to spill safely down the ridge and into a larger pond a few dozen yards away. Over time the spillway had cut deeply into the ridge, creating three tiers of waterfalls, the largest being about 6 feet high above a pool of unknown depth. No mention was made of this feature in the real estate brochure, and we didn’t learn about the waterfall until a few weeks after the property was ours. It was a stunning discovery to make on our property, and one of many that has deepened our attachment to this place that we call our “little slice of Heaven” in Surry County North Carolina.
The Kid, a bunch of dogs and I joined the Wife on our utility vehicle, and we drove down a switch-backed trail that led to the pond beneath pines, poplars and oaks that shaded us from the sun. After we arrived, we got out and explored around the edge of the pond, pushing our way through spiderwebs and shrubs that overhung the pond edges. I pushed through the webs as I made a mental note to buy a well-made machete and come down to tame the understory before winter set in.
Suddenly ahead of me the Wife started screaming and running towards me. Yellow jacket wasps filled the air and began stinging her and the dogs and I turned and began to run. But she noticed that our little chihuahua was covered with about 20 of the things, and had laid down to bite at the wasps. She turned around and headed back into the swarm, and so did I. She yelped with each sting, and I noticed dozens of the wasps on the lower legs of my jeans. I made it to the chi first and knowing that he could swim I threw him into the pond. The Wife leapt in after him. She kept his head above water as the wasps stung her neck and face. My son had disappeared as had the other dogs.
I was furious – at the wasps for attacking my dogs and at my Wife for wearing shorts and sandals whenever she ventures out into Nature. She used to laugh at me when we lived for a year in the Tanzanian bush. She would wear shorts and sandals; I always wore heavy pants, long sleeved shirts and hiking boots. In Tanzania there were biting tsetse flies, two different types of stinging and swarming ants, plus numerous wasps and assorted biting flies. She would get stung and bitten on almost a daily basis. I never got stung once. And where was the Kid?
As I helped the Wife out of the pond with the dog crying in pain, I called for him using a bellowing voice that I rarely use and save for very rare occasions. He didn’t come. After ten minutes with the wasps still flying around and stinging us, I managed to fish out the Wife and the dog and pack them into the Utility vehicle. Both were stung dozens of time. In all the mayhem I managed to be stung only a few times on my arm. The wasps never managed to make it through the denim of my jeans.
When we returned home I was furious with the Kid and yelled at him for running away. The anger poured out of me and it frightened him in a way that took me aback. It was at that point that I began to realize that what I was doing – dressing him down for running away and accusing him of cowardice was absolutely wrong.
A few phone calls to the vet and a trip to the nearest pharmacy open on a Sunday (meaning a 25 minute ride to Wal-mart on two lane roads packed with church goers who believe that Jesus drives 10 mph below the speed limit) and I had calmed down. I apologized to him and hugged him, but what I can’t convey to him is the shame I feel for yelling at him.
He’s a teen. He is incapable of thinking about anyone but himself. When threatened for him running is a good strategy especially when a nest full of yellow jackets are involved. On the other hand I am a parent; making sacrifices is part of my job. When the Wife shouted about the dog in distress it was my duty to help him no matter the cost of being stung. One of my family and one of my pets was in trouble, and nothing was going to prevent me from my duty. The stings are in no way pleasant, but I have been stung enough to know that the pain goes away after an hour.
What can’t go away is the shame that I have for yelling at my son and making him cry. It tears me up, and while I’m sure he’s moved on and accepted my apology, I haven’t. I tried to make it up to him; I had him help me destroy the nest. I poured diesel on it and set it on fire and had him shoot it with an assault rifle. The slugs tore the underground nest apart, allowing the flames to reach every corner. After a few minutes I approached the nest and used a stick to pull out the larvae. It was a visceral, almost primal reaction to the attack. I decided that the reaction couldn’t wait until dusk when the nest could be approached safely; retribution had to be immediate. It was important for me to allow my son to face his fear and to do something productive to counter it, but it was more important to me to show that I loved and respected him.
The nest is destroyed and the chihuahua is feeling better. The Kid continues his journey into manhood – with a deeply flawed and regretful man whom he calls his father watching ever nervously from shore. I suppose that too is my duty.