Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Dealing with my least favorite of all animals

By CHERYL KIMBALL August 04. 2018 1:12PM
A wasp crawls along a very colorful batch of flowers. (Metro Creative Connection)

I suspect all of us have a tipping point when it comes to being fearful of an animal. My tipping point is wasps. Porcupines don’t faze me much — you just can’t touch them. Spiders in my house get caught in a plastic storage container and escorted outdoors (or in the garage if it’s winter). Snakes give me a fright since they are often hard to see until they move, but otherwise I don’t mind them.

But wasps, with their draping legs and mean looks, put me over the edge. Apparently I was stung by a wasp when I was a baby in my crib in my bedroom; no one saw it happen but there was a wasp on the window and my ankle was swollen. I don’t recall that but I surely felt it and perhaps saw the wasp setting me up for an anti-wasp life. One of my earliest memories at around age 6 was seeing a wasp silhouetted behind the curtain in my window while a hurricane was brewing outside; from then on I have associated hurricanes and wasps.

Another wasp incident I recall was when I was getting ready for my eighth-grade graduation. I was going to wear a yellow dress. I put on one leg of pale yellow pantyhose and as I was putting on the second leg, I noticed a wasp caught inside the bottom of the leg. Those pantyhose came off as fast as I could get them off. That was too close for comfort for me and the thought of getting those stockings all the way on with that wasp trapped in them still makes me shudder.

Why I ever thought it was a good idea to get horses is beyond me. Wasps build nests in between the inner and outer siding and under the roof of the run-in shed. Their favorite nesting place is in the tubes of pipe panel fencing. If a horizontal piece of pipe has rusted at the bottom, they build up inside it. And they particularly like the vertical tubes of gates, which often have open bottoms and are not resting on the ground since they need to swing. This is where I get into the most trouble, including just a few days ago.

I had just recently thought how I hadn’t had to deal with as many wasps this summer as in the past. Over the past few years, I have tried to use fewer chemicals around the barn — fly spray on the horses (it is effective for around five minutes) and wasp-killing spray. I know wasps have their place in the world (which is at least 10 yards away from me) and killing all the ones in a 400-yard radius of my home seemed uncalled for. And they die a horrible death from these chemicals-in-a-can, whose 12-foot spray soaks the ground on the way to their target.

But fear not, I found out a couple days ago that the wasps are around, they just hadn’t yet crossed my wasp-fearing path. When I turned to close the gate to the horse pen toting a muck bucket and a fork to clean the run-in shed, it took me a minute to figure out what was making my left thigh feel like red hot match heads were being ground into it. I did a little dance and brushed at my leg and saw a wasp drop to the ground. I saw them hanging around the bottom of the gate, their yellow legs brilliant against the green piping.

This is where it gets tricky. What I wanted to do was run crying away from these one-inch-long monsters. But the gate was open. I needed to find a way to close it and wrap the chain around it to latch it shut. But I was not going near these (insert favorite expletive). I tried using the manure fork to swing the gate shut and lift the chain all at the same time; not happening. The horses were headed over to get their hay near the shed. I was not going to get stung by a wasp and chase my horses around the neighborhood all in the same day. Finally, I ran through the open gate with the muck bucket and fork, tossed the bucket upside down inside the gate, and pushed it into exactly the right place with the fork. Then I swung the gate to lean against the bucket. That kept the horses duped that the gate was shut long enough for me to get my wasp ammunition and spray chemicals all over the pipe with their nest.

Cleaning the shed was off the morning chore list. I went into the house and put ice on the two wasp stings on my thigh. I knew from experience they would hurt all day and even into the next, when they start getting itchy even though the red welts have subsided. And I added wasp spray to my shopping list.

Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at

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