Growing Up Alaska: Paper Wasps

A constant problem near the Hot Springs pool during the summer were the paper wasps. While paper wasps are highly aggressive, they tend to steer clear of people unless you mess with their nest.

Since many of these nests were built under the eaves in the buildings around the pool, inevitably, pool goers, often young or drunk, would find it quite humorous to splash water on them. This in turn lead to people screaming in the pool as hordes of wasps would descend on them.

So, the manager of the resort put a bounty on wasp nests. Any wasp nest removed could earn you money, depending on the size or if the complete nest was removed. The rewards often included ice cold soda, so finding and pulling down nests became a past time.

Now, mind you, I was only six at the time, but me and my friend, Scott, watched the older kids do it, and we were determined to get in on the action. The older kids would have a bucket of water ready and try to cause the nest to fall into the bucket where they tossed a wet towel in and around it causing it to fully submerge and drown the wasps.

They were met with a sting or two, but after a week of getting all the easy nests, the excitement for them had kind of worn off. But Scott and I were just getting started.

We found a new nest that was about the size of a baseball and successfully knocked it down. It bounced off of our pail and landed on the ground and we ran as the hive swarmed out. We waited a while for the wasps to settle down and leave before we tossed a wet towel on it and carried it to the manager.

He gave us each a quarter and gave us a root beer to split. We were rich! And more money just hung there waiting to get collected.

We developed a tactic of hitting the nests and running until we dislodged a nest, but most were too high for us to reach with a stick. We managed to get a couple over the next few days, much to our mothers’ disapproval.

We also discovered that the manager would pay more for bigger hives, so when we came around the corner of the pool house and saw a nest that was bigger than a basketball, we knew we’d hit the jackpot. There was only one problem, the nest was 20 feet up under the eave.

We tried throwing rocks at it, but our little arms had little strength and even less aim. We tried building a slingshot, but the rubber band that we used snapped and hurt us. We even found a longer pole, but even at eight feet in length, we were well short of the nest.

But we were determined and I came up with a plan. They were redoing the bar, so they had tall wooden stools set outside at tables on the other side of pool. I figured that if one us stood on the stool while the other person held it (safety first, right?) we would be tall enough to whack the nest down.

Looking back, I know that there was no way that adding another 3 -4 feet to our elevation wouldn’t have closed the 8-9 foot gap, but hey, I was six and it was brilliant!

We never got to try it out, because I was halfway around the pool, dragging the stool, when I heard Scott yelling and he came running around the corner. It took me a moment to register what was happening as he emerged from the shadow of the building, only the shadow came with him!

Scott had used the pole like a javelin and tossed it straight up at the hive. It had lodged itself into the hive and hung there for a moment before bringing over half the hive down with it. The hive, impaled on the pole, slid down the pole that Scott had tried to catch. The hive had then exploded as it struck Scott who had at the last moment tried unsuccessfully to throw the pole away.

I turned to run and tripped over the stool which clattered to ground as Scott hurdled it before scaling the wall to the pool and diving in. The swarm buzzed over me and continued their pursuit of the hive destroyer.

I got up and chased after Scott who was screaming in the pool as he ducked under and tried to swim away. The pool was littered with hundreds of dead or drowning wasps, but just like in the cartoons, the swarm followed the shadow of Scott underwater. When he came to the surface, the dive bombed him, stinging him relentlessly.

Some bystanders screamed and swam away, but a few swam towards the swarm and began splashing at it until the wasps, what few were left, flew away.

One of the men, grabbed Scott who was still thrashing in the water. They drug him from the pool and rushed him inside the resort.

Scott was a mess. He’d been stung over a hundred times and there were still stingers in his flesh. One woman from the hotel picked the stingers from his puffed up skin while his mother tried to comfort him and put some sort of lotion on him to help with the pain.

Within an hour, he was loaded onto a small bush plane with his mother to be taken to the hospital in Fairbanks. He was struggling to breath and they weren’t sure if he would make it.

Thankfully he did, though he had to carry and epipen with him afterwards.

To add insult to injury, literally, we never got to collect the bounty on the big hive and were forbidden from messing with them anymore. They brought in a specialist who helped get rid of all the hives and left decoys behind because wasps are very territorial with each other and if they see another nest, they will look elsewhere.

Author: matthewlasley

I am a school teacher and an author. I like to write picture books, middle grade, science fiction and short stories. I live in Alaska and I love history, so those two things often influence my creative writing.

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