The Face of Death

I seem to have a foolhardy propensity for photographing creatures that can kill me.

Spring is coming to Seattle late this year…or, perhaps more properly, it's on schedule but bears a strong semblance to October. So on a so-far-rare sunny Sunday morning I crack a few windows and hope to get some fresh air in the house while I'm cleaning. And as I trudge up the stairs with the vacuum cleaner, I'm greeted by a life-and-death drama unfolding in my just-opened home office windows.

One spider versus three wasps.

The office window couldn't have been open for more than twenty minutes, but somehow wasps have gotten around the screen, inside my office, and are angrily buzzing against the window glass and up and behind some half-drawn sisal blinds. And at the very top of the window, I see a very spry (and very long-legged) spider skittering across the top of the window, no doubt reaction to motion in its Web as the wasps batter the blinds. I'd known the spider was there, but the wasps were a shock.

Whenever I see a wasp in the house, my first reaction is to freeze in place. I am furiously allergic to wasp and bee stings. Any number of wasps, bees, hornets, and yellow jackets have traipsed harmlessly across my skin and face while I've been playing mannequin. I have been stung precisely once in my life, and that incident took place in the living room of my old apartment while I was sorting through some papers. A wasp had apparently some in from the building's attic through a light fixture, and was exploring the blanket on the back of the couch when I suddenly leaned back on it. Epinephrine kept me breathing long enough to be transported to the hospital, where I spent a very unpleasant twenty hours.

So while I'm frozen in place and pondering my next move, one of the cats zips past me into the office, jumps up on my desk, and, gets ready to start batting at the cool new buzzing toys in the blinds.

So I zip into the office, scoop up the cat, deposit him in a bedroom, and shut the door. But I still have three wasps in my office, and no really great ideas for dealing with them. In a pinch, Lysol spray isn't a bad defense: it won't kill them (and makes them very angry), but it'll usually get their wings wet enough they can't fly for a few seconds…and that's enough time to crush them. I don't really want to use anything more toxic then Lysol in a room where both me and the cats spend a lot of time, so I hurry downstairs, grab some Lysol and rubber gloves, and head back up.

And there a strange sight greets me. One one of the wasps is still bashing its head against the class, but the other two are tangled in the spider web at the top of the window. Friendly Spider is maybe two inches away, waiting for the right moment to pounce…and a moment later it does, rushing in and rapidly twirling one of the trapped and struggling wasps into a cocoon of spider silk. Only when the wasp is secure does the spider deliver a bite—and then immediately backs off a safe distance. I think the second trapped wasp might be able to free itself, but it doesn't get much of a chance: with half a minute Friendly Spider has twirled it up too.

So I wait, Lysol at the ready, hoping maybe Friendly Spider will be able to dispatch all three wasps for me. Alas, the third wasp moves over to the second window, furiously bashing its head against the glass. The sound is impressive, like tapping a pencil loudly on a desk.

Eventually, the remaining wasp either hurts itself or tires: it becomes lethargic, and eventually settles on the back side of the blind, barely crawling around. I stand in the doorway, mostly frozen, waiting, listening to an angry cat trapped in the bedroom behind me. I don't know what the do. The wasp is almost inaccessible on the back of the blind: to reach it, I would have to lift the blind away from the window…and that seemed likely to get the wasp flying freely around the room. So I wait. And wait. The cat keeps protesting. Eventually stops crawling around and parks itself. Five minutes. Then ten.

So, being a complete idiot, I put down the Lysol and get my camera.


Apparently, I'm still here to tell the tale.

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