Stung: Wasp nest provides and unpleasant jolt
By Mitch Mode, special to the Star Journal
I have a path near my hunt shack, a serpentine trail; out, back, out again and back. I walk it in summer, carry a shotgun on autumn days (we see an occasional grouse), snowshoe the short loop come winter. I like it best on days of cold and snow when I can come back to the shack, knock the snow off my boots and sit by the woodstove.
Now, summer, I clear the trail. I gave up using hand cutters, broke down and bought a power brush cutter, ignoring my life-long aversion to all things powered by internal combustion small engines.
I fill the gas tank, pull protective ear muffs snug, fire it up and begin the task. I use up a tank of gas and then quit for the day. It will take me four or five sessions to get it done. That’s fine with me.
I take Bella though not without some trepidation; a cutting blade that can take out a two-inch diameter tree can do damage to a dog should she come too close. Bella maintains her distance; I keep aware of her.
For Bella the small wood lot is as familiar as the backyard; she’s spent time there in the two years she’s been with us. She ranges, but not too far and in that a relief. My two old pups, now gone, Riika and Thor, they’d head off to who-knows-where, chasing elusive zephyrs of scent on the wind, charge over the hills, sprint to the next zip code! Riika and Thor; headstrong and wild, running with joy and abandon. Loved the two of them for all the headaches they gave me.
Bella stays close, dodging into the shadows and under the ferns, now you see her, now you don’t. But if I stop and call her she’s nearby.
She wears an e-collar in the field. The collar can be set to give an audible beeping tone or turned to “stimulation,” a pleasant euphemism for what formerly was referred to as “shock” as in “shock collar.” The stimulation part of all this is an unpleasant, shock-like jolt used to encourage the dog to be mindful of commands. In responsible hands it is a useful training tool; used irresponsibly it is cruel. I’ve tried it on myself. I know how it feels.
When a dog feels the tack-sharp jolt it runs to the owner for comfort and safety.
Bella responds to the tone. If I lose track of her or simply want to turn her I give her three beeps on the collar and she comes back. I’ve used the “stimulation” on her a handful of times, most recently last hunt season when she came upon a porcupine and showed too much interest. My old companions, Riika and Thor, tangled with porkies far too many times and their accumulated vet bills would pay for a semester at an Ivy League college.
I swing the brush cutter in an arc, back and forth, taking out fern and milkweed, grasses and saplings; in my wake, a walking path perhaps five feet wide. My world is muffled by the ear protection and my focus is entirely on the whirling cutter blade; back and forth, back and forth. I check in with Bella but otherwise my world is the width of the swath of brush the cutter lays down.
The footing is uneven, the work tedious, my attention tight to the swirl of cutter, the drop of fern. I step on something that feels oddly soft and I stumble a bit. But I am not aware that it’s a wasp nest until I feel a sharp stab on my thumb and look down to see a very small but very angry wasp stinging through the lightweight work glove.
I slap it off. The sting is sharp and painful as if e-collar stimulation turned to a high level.
I look back. The low spot that I’d stepped on is abuzz with a swarm of small, ground-nesting wasps (or perhaps hornets; I do not take the time to analyze). They circle and spiral down, a small tornado-shaped cloud and the sun catches them in its light and I can see flashes of yellow on their bodies. I am adrenaline-fired now, fully focused on the insects. None leave the nest area.
Bella comes and I call her and move quickly away from the nest. My thumb hurts like a son-of-a-gun. I pull off the glove; no obvious damage. I’ve been stung before; who hasn’t? It doesn’t bother me much. But this one hurt like none other.
We move away, hastily.
A side note: A friend with a setter was once in the field, the dog ranging ahead, graceful and smooth. The dog wore an e-collar. The dog stumbled onto a hornets’ nest, got stung, mistook the stings for a zap from the collar and did what dogs do: return to the owner as if chased by the hounds of hell, a swarm of hornets in tow!
Bella and I escaped such drama.
The sting bothered me to no end. If I ran cold water on it, it hurt worse. It hurt when I rode my bike. It hurt in the evening, a dull ache, as if I’d hit my thumb with a hammer. I woke during the night from it; slept restlessly, the thumb sore. I’ve never had such a bad reaction to a sting.
I returned to the nest, returned in vengeance and with pre-meditation, returned like an avenging god, returned with an oversized can of wasp killer in hand. I told Bella to stay; she did. Then I doused the nest, soaked every wasp I saw, did so with no remorse. In the end, there were no wasps to be seen.
I hit the tone button of Bella’s e-collar and she came running, no stimulation needed, and we left the spoiled nest behind.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.