A wasp's-eye view of my garden

A little light fiction for you.

Once upon a time there was a Scottish wasp, Glasgow-based. His name escapes me now, if I ever knew it in the first place. Which I didn't. But anyway, this wasp was not alone in the world. Or even if he (or she) had been alone, it was not for long. This wasp has today what might be described as an extended family. Very extended.

This wasp, earlier in the season, had been house-hunting - or at least looking for a site where a wasp and his or her relations might build a house. These wasps fancied a leafy suburb, somewhere dry and out of the wind, far from human habitation. And without so much as a realtor's fee or imaginative advertising, they found just the spot.

What they particularly liked about it was its easy access, which was also rather secretive. (When you build a new home without the documents and legal arrangements required by human authorities, secrecy may strike you as a sound notion.) What they liked even more about it was that it was safe and shady, under cover and abandoned.

It was, in fact, my very own allotment-plot shed, top right-hand corner under the roof. To the colonizing wasps, as they slowly increased the girth of their cozy nest, zooming in and out via a small crack at the top of the lopsided door, the absence of human intrusion over a period of several months was perfect.

This hut had evidently been used at some time in the past. There was evidence: rakes and brushes, spades and forks, balls of string, dried-up tulip bulbs, bundled strawberry netting. But all was cobwebbed and dusty. It stayed in exactly the same state of careless chaos day after day.

Outside, weeds grew, delphiniums and fennel burgeoned and blew over in a storm, left unstaked. A frog slopped in and out of the rainwater that collected in the clay in the big forgotten hole dug in the middle of the patch.

And there were no sowing or plantings to speak of. Nobody came and nobody went.

It was a wasp paradise.

And then, one fateful day, this lanky fellow showed up, forced open the shed door so that light burst in, and stood there silhouetted, like some ominous giant.

He proceeded to shuffle some tools around the place. Then, outside, he began tearing up weeds in armfuls, turning over soil in heaps, and creating heaven knows what other kinds of disruption. He was clearly no lover of native wilderness. He was clearly up to no good.

Strangely, he didn't interfere directly with the wasps. Their only new problem was that now and then he stood in the way of their accustomed flight paths, and they had to change direction as they sped to and from pollen and nectar, busy with their schedules.

What these wasps didn't know was that this human intruder - on the very day he had at last managed to escape the exigencies of various occupations that had kept him from his garden far too long - had had a conversation with one of his fellow plotters about wasps.

This other plot-gardener and his wife have a young child and an even younger baby. On their account, this man was concerned to rid his plot of a wasps' nest.

My fellow gardener asked me for advice on wasp disposals. Without much thought I resorted to whatever folk memory presented itself. I suggested smoking them out.

"Or," I added (and it was a good thing my wasps couldn't hear me), "when we were kids, we used to put boiling water into jam jars, with a touch of jam. It drew them like a magnet." The busy, angry autumn wasps would make - if they'll forgive a species-mixed metaphor - beelines for the jars and therein meet a scalding death.

Today my wasps have a better deal with me. I look back at my primitive childhood procedure as disgusting and callous. Back then, I had no pity for wasps. They were little devils. They deserved capital punishment, and I shamefacedly admit that I was rather pleased with the numbers of them I managed to slaughter.

So much for the sweet innocence of children.

Yesterday, the giant, endeavoring once more to redeem his neglected plot, to make it look loved again, was rained off for about half an hour. To the wasps' surprise he sat in their shed and waited. The wasps zizzed and zig-zagged past him, intent on the little entrances to their nest. Wasps fly investigatively rather than with an absolute certainty of direction. These insinuated themselves out of the shed and into the bright rain, and returned to their base in similarly tentative ways.

I - the giant - thought my sedentary presence was being ignored, but then I was aware of one particular wasp hovering near me. It was pretending not to spy on me, and made a little show of inspecting the bag of fertilizer and some seed packets, but I knew it was sizing me up. It was like a tiny, wayward helicopter reconnoitering.

Reconnoitering for what? If I am not at war with the wasps, why would they be at war with me?

We can't talk except with actions. My plan is to let this small hive run its course. For my forbearance I expect the wasps to accept me for what I hope I am. A giant, maybe. But one who intends no harm and expects none.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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