"Things That Sting," An Essay by John R. Erickson

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 | By John R. Erickson

Hank book 22 cover

    We have insects on this ranch that come armed with a stinger. The first that comes to mind is the yellowjacket wasp. They like our house. They love our house and would move in with us if we gave them any encouragement at all. We don’t, so they mostly inhabit the porch area and the underside of the eaves.

    During the first two-thirds of the summer, they mind their business, whatever that might be, and we mind ours. We glare at each other on the porch but seldom come to blows. That changes in August and September.

    Something happens to yellowjackets at the end of summer. They become torpid, and they start showing up in odd places, such as in pant legs, shirts, boots, and bed sheets. When disturbed, they do what you’d expect a cowardly, trespassing yellowjacket to do: sting.

    We apply vinegar to wasp stings, and sometimes a paste of water mixed with baking soda. That seems to help. We also smash the wasp, which helps even more.

    Occasionally we encounter scorpions in our house. I found one in the kitchen about six months ago. I was pretty sure Kris hadn’t left any hot branding irons lying around on the floor, yet my bare foot was telling me I had just stepped on one. It was a scorpion. He drilled me good.

    My boot didn’t fit too well the next morning, but his didn’t fit at all. Heh heh.

    Scorpions are pretty creepy, but for sheer creepiness they don’t compare to the centipedes. Before we moved to the ranch, I had never seen a centipede that was more than an inch long, and they were always outside, living under rocks and logs.

    Well, we have centipedes in this canyon, and much to my wife’s dismay, we sometimes find them in her house. These are not your wimpy inch-long centipedes. These things are often six inches long, and you can see them from across the room. To put it mildly, they always draw a response.

    I’m not squeamish. I like snakes and must confess to a certain fascination with scorpions. But these things...a six-inch centipede gives me the creeps. All those legs moving in a wave. No eyes, no face, just feelers on both ends, and a big set of pinching jaws. They are creepy.

    They are creepy when you find them in the bathtub. They are creepy when you see one crawling up the wall. They are creepy when you see one slithering across the floor. They are creepy anywhere, any time.

    But aside from sheer ugliness, which none of us can help, what is it about a centipede that inspires such a powerful reaction? I can’t say for sure that they bite or sting. No one in our family has ever been injured by a centipede...well, only indirectly, as a result of running through walls...and I can’t remember ever hearing of anyone who’s been stung by one.

    You hear stories, of course. Every foot contains a stinger and if they walk across your flesh, it leaves a trail of swollen red marks. But from my experience, these are all unconfirmed reports. Maybe they don’t do anything but look creepy.

    I have thought about catching one in a jar and taking it to Mrs. Splawn, the star soprano in our church choir. She doesn’t love crawling things and I have been guilty of placing rubber snakes in the folds of her choir robe on a few occasions. But these ranch-raised centipedes are so ugly, they exceed the bounds of good taste.

    And I would fear her response.

    One of us might get injured, and it might be me.


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