Hornet Detente

Painting is productive yoga

My main activity this month is re-staining the exterior of Ann’s house and painting the trim; actually changing it from the dark red it’s always been to dark green.  It’s a big job.  A BIG job.  I quoted a good price and she agreed and, as has been my custom in July, I’m painting. Usually I’m imported to Boston where it is unbearably hot, so it’s good to be in the woods of Maine.

I like to paint.  It’s a good physical activity that requires some skill but allows me time to ruminate.  The individual parts of the task can get tedious in such a large job so my plan is to prep then paint one face of the house then move on to the next.  In any endeavour I like to start with the hardest part first, or save the easiest or best for last.  I began with the south facing side.  It had the most need for paint and more windows that required lots of sanding.

What I did not plan on was the number of hornet nests in the siding of the house. I have the south side done and the stain on the west side and between those two faces I counted at least twelve places where hornets live.  I’m hoping they like the warm sides only and will not be on the others.

I try to exude a live and let live demeanour which is a good thing around hornets. They are eusocial, like honey bees and ants and from what I’ve read, if one decides you are a threat she can summon the rest of the hive to swarm and attack you.  Slathering paint around their dooryard is not considered friendly by hornets.  The hard part is that sometimes a hornet will buzz you and push for escalation of hostilities.  That is especially not fun when you are standing on a ladder, eighteen feet in the air.

While I was working on the south side, on the ladder, a hornet landed on the trim of the window next to me and watched me for a while.  I watched back, more curious than afraid. Then it went about its business.   The nests that are on a large expanse of wall are not a big problem.  I can paint next to them; no problem.  But one nest entrance was on the wall of the greenhouse right next to a wood-slatted vent.  The flight path of the hornets leaving the nest took them first toward the house then they flew 90° and away.  If I were to paint there, I would have cornered them in a threatening way.  I thought the nest had to go so I waited for dusk and hit it with hornet spray I got at the paint store.  It was like shooting napalm; it came out in an aggressive stream.  The next morning there was one carcass that made it just past the opening before expiring.  I felt terrible.

So now I have more passive strategies.  For the most difficult nest areas, I wait until dusk and paint the area surrounding so that I won’t have to when they are flying during the day.  Still today it seemed like every open knothole on the west side was an entrance to a hornet nest.  One was quite high up so I painted around it and then below and came back to paint higher when the entrance area was dry.

So far i have not been stung, although a couple of hornets have checked me out again.  one was on the only patch I had yet to paint so I tried to communicate that I was headed there and to go elsewhere.  And it did.  then another flew around my head and I retreated briefly but then continued.  No stinging.

I think we have achieved detente.


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