Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wasps and I

I have--as my father had before me--a certain limited immunity to insects. That is not to say that they would not bite or sting me, but that--given the choice--they would prefer to bite or sting someone else.

I first learned about this personal peculiarity when I was eleven or twelve and my family--and I--were vacationing at Cambria Pines in California. My father and I were hiking along the cliff above the ocean when he saw an apparently unoccupied paper wasp nest near the top of a large tree some thirty or more feet above the ground. He announced that he was going to get the nest.

I allowed as how I didn't think that that was a very good idea, an argument that my father did not find persuasive.

And--as one would expect--just as my father reached the wasp nest the wasps came pouring out.

I am proud to say that I just stood there until my father's feet hit the ground and then we took off running together.

And neither of us was stung.

And my father was proud that he had invented a new way of climbing down trees, which consisted simply of slapping each branch as it went by.

Some eight or nine years later, I was working as a driller's helper on a shallow water doodlebug crew--that is, a shallow water seismic exploration crew--around Bayou Teche in Louisiana. On that particular day the water got so shallow that we had to get out of our piroughs and wade through the swamp carrying the drill pipe on our shoulders. I wasn't very good at that and kept jamming the pipes that I was carrying into trees.

And after a while I jammed a pipe into a wasp nest in a tree, but I didn't at the time notice that. I just stood there, puzzled, while the rest of the crew--all Cajuns and all at home in swamps--danced around slapping themselves and cursing. So I asked them what was wrong and one of them replied, "Mosquitoes." . It took me some time to figure out what had happened.

I wasn't very popular that day. But I was the only one who did not get stung.


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