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The Woman and the Wasp

I like to sit on the small front porch, taking breaks from my work, eating lunch, or just enjoying being outside as a change in my routine. Lately, I noticed a paper wasp flying about on the porch. I tried to ignore her as she moved around me, because I know that, disturbing as they are to humans, these wasps are more pollinating creatures, like the bees and butterflies moving through the California poppies and lavender blossoms at the end of the porch steps. They also eat insects that can wreak havoc on a garden. But one day I saw something that put me on alert: the wasp flew down into the planter holding a leggy geranium that sat next to the front door. And she did not come back up. Why would she fly into the few inches of space between the terra cotta cube and the plastic pot that held the plant? What was she seeking in the cool dark?

Two days later, it became clear as I peered into the slim crevasse: beneath her careful ministrations, creation was occurring. This wasp was a queen, building up the first chamber of her nest.

Now, wasps are allowed their nests, just like any other creature. But a wasp nest down low on the porch, one and a half feet behind where I like to sit and watch the garden and the street? This disturbed me. It was too close, not even in some high corner of a roof, but in a place I wished no wasps to be. For one wasp building a nest means many more wasps to come. By summer’s close there would be hundreds, zooming around the porch with their nipped in waists and dangling legs, making an aerial obstacle course of the entry way between the sidewalk and the front door, and eliminating my perch, my respite, my place in the sun.

Not wanting to kill the wasp, but wanting to convince her that this was not a good plan, I waited until she was off gathering more fiber for her lair, and took a hose to the papery chamber, rending the thin stem from the planter and washing it away. Then I prepared to leave. As I was climbing onto my bicycle, I saw her return, flying about the planter, and then resting on the terra cotta edge. I don’t know if wasps have thoughts, but I could almost hear her confusion: she had left but for a moment, and was back to return to her task, but meanwhile, her work had vanished.

“I’m out of here, wasp,” I said. As I rode away I wondered, would she find a more congenial place to build, or would she simply begin again?

Sitting on the porch is part of my creative process, and I know that creation and destruction go hand in hand and that these are also parts of life’s cycles, something a friend pointed out we are taught as early as the recitation of the “itsy-bitsy spider” saga. But I felt badly about the wasp. What about her creative process? What about her destiny to lead a large colony of waspy friends? This may seem like sentimental maundering, but all of a sudden, it was not simply Ender Wiggins destroying the alien Buggers once again, but Israel and Palestine, Crips and Bloods, Americans and Iraqis, Pakistanis and Indians, mountain lions and tract home developers, flat-headed cats and biofuel makers… who has the right to create and who has the right to destroy? Where do justice and injustice begin and end? The wasp and I could not co-exist in the way she had planned, for she had not planned for me, nor I for her. Had she but found some eave, some high, cool place, I would have found a way to coexist. But she did not, so I destroyed the nascent bud of her creation. And though I knew that this was practical, it disturbs me as I write these words.

For you see, I might have been thrilled had a honeybee contrived to build a hive upon my porch. But this was no honeybee. This was a wasp: much maligned, called evil by some, and thought to have no purpose but to terrorize and sting. And I know this is not true. The wasp brings danger, yes, but the wasp also has a job in the biosphere. There are many layers to this story: layers about creation and destruction; about good and evil; about territorial rights; about large versus small; about relationships and fear. And yet, it is also just the story of a wasp and a woman, both trying to find a place to be as spring sunshine filled the air. Simple. No big deal. One small event among life’s many.

How this story will play out, I don’t yet know, but I have a sense that whatever lessons are available will continue to unfold, or to build themselves, layer by careful layer, like the chambers of a paper wasp’s home. I feel unsettled by my unsettling of the wasp, and I think that is a good thing. Destruction should never be casual, even when it feels deeply necessary, or rather small. I destroyed a single, papery chamber, in the hopes that both the wasp and I would live to create again. I just hope she follows her muse elsewhere.

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