On being ... summer's sting

By Ingrid Sapona

I usually choose topics for On being… based on an experience or thought I’ve found myself preoccupied with that week. But, I do try to make sure there’s something in it – some underlying commonality (if not universality) – that I think many readers will be able to relate to.

Well, when I told a friend what I was going to writing about this week, I was stung by his question: “How are you going to spin THAT into something others can relate to?” Well, I can’t believe I’m the only one who’d enjoy summer more if it didn’t come with things that buzz, creep, crawl, bite, and sting. Those of you who don’t feel the same – by all means – put this down and just go back to enjoying your summer. I’ll catch up with you again in a couple weeks…

Those of you still reading have probably figured out that I don’t like bugs. Unfortunately, the feeling isn’t mutual. As (bad) luck would have it, bugs have always liked me. I’m a mosquito magnet, for example. I take all the precautions possible: I don’t use perfume or scented shampoo or deodorant, I wear light colours, long sleeves, long pants, socks, and mosquito repellant, but still they find me a tasty treat. I try my best not to complain – preferring, instead, to scratch in silence. But don’t you dare snicker if you see a can of Off in bag – getting West Nile doesn’t sound like fun to me!

 I’m fairly tolerant of spiders, but that’s only because you can’t sail and be photic about them. It’s impossible to take a sail cover off or move a line on board without sending them scurrying. Mind you, though I’m used to them, that doesn’t mean I like them. My grudging acceptance goes so far as to basically let them be, unless they get too close. I figure, once they’re within arm’s reach, they’re fair game. Yes, I read Charlotte’s web, but honestly. Whether they’re big and hairy (as so many on board are), or small and compact, if they’re coming my way, they’re asking for it.

But wasps are a whole other matter. I don’t know why, but mud wasps seem to be very much at home at my sail club. Historically, my boat has been especially attractive to them. There’s an opening that’s about a finger’s width wide at the top corners of my front hatch – it’s more than enough for an agile wasp to fly through. And, once they find their way in, they clearly feel quite at home.

The first year I had the boat I noticed a wasp fly into the cabin. Me or someone else on board just shooed it away. But, a few minutes later it returned. This time, I watched as it headed far into the V-birth – my favourite place to sleep. Sure enough, it had started building a nest in the corner. Ugh…

Later that day I bought some wasp spray and I doused the nest with it. Then, for good measure, when I closed up the boat I sprayed all around the front hatch, leaving a thick layer of foam. I figured the wasp(s) probably wouldn’t like the foam, and I hoped it left a residual smell or something that might stop them from going in. For the rest of the season I sprayed the hatch every time I closed the boat. (Thankfully the foam didn’t hurt the wood or fibreglass, though that was a price I was prepared to pay to keep the wasps away.)

A sailor friend teases me about my “wasp paranoia”. Whenever there’s a wasp nearby we end up in a Laurel and Hardy-like exchange that goes something like this: He says, “if you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.” I reply: “But what if you’re stung and you have an allergic reaction? And what if it happens in the middle of Lake Ontario? By the time you got back in, it could be too late.” He then poses what he thinks is the winner-take-all question: “Are you allergic?” Of course, he knows my answer, which is that I don’t know, since I’ve never been stung. Thinking I must feel pretty silly, he breaks into a wry smile. But I don’t feel silly. After all, what’s irrational about a “better safe than sorry” approach?

Anyway, after routinely foaming the front hatch before I left, I enjoyed many blissful, wasp-free years on the boat. This year, however, I was assigned a new slip and it seems the wasps have rediscovered my boat. Last week I watched as a wasp made its way into a new nest inside the cabin. This nest was larger than previous ones I’ve had on board, and I kind of panicked. Too afraid to deal with the nest myself, one of my dock neighbors got rid of it. (It was on a box he removed from the cabin.) Taking no chances, I sprayed when I closed up.

Saturday, when I opened the boat I checked every nook and cranny. (Alright, I’ll admit my search bordered on obsessive, so what.) When I didn’t find anything, I breathed easy and set out. A few minutes after raising the sails, however, I saw a large wasp nest on the boom! After calming down, I grabbed the spray and foamed it mercilessly. After I was sure nothing was stirring, I knocked the nest off with a heavy winch handle. The dead, foamed larva (or whatever it was in there) made a mess, but better that result, if you know what I mean.

I know my reaction – or over reaction, as some see it – to wasps and bugs is irrational. And yes, with a nod to the adage about what you fear most you attract, I deal with them when I must. But right about now, I’d gladly trade a few snow flurries for bugs…

© 2012 Ingrid Sapona


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