Never Poke a Hornet’s Nest

Sound advice, isn’t it?

When I was eight or nine years old, two of my cousins came to visit. They were brothers and four to five years older than I. My neighbor, Mrs. Gray, owned an old gas station on a lot between our house and hers. She used the building for storage. On the back wall of this building was a medium-sized hornet’s nest.

My cousins were tough and always into mischief. They dared me that I wouldn’t take a stick to the nest and strike it. I suppose I wanted to impress them, and I didn’t realize exactly how a hornet’s nest was designed or how many hornets were hidden inside. Acting brave, I took the stick and walked to the nest.

I had seen numerous paper wasp nests around the house and shed. I had even helped my grandfather knock them off the edge of roofs, but the hornet’s nest didn’t seem as bad at first glance. Until this day, though, I had never seen one.

The hole near the bottom of the nest had a couple of hornets setting right inside it. There weren’t any on the outside. The stick I had was a walking stick my grandfather had made from a sapling and shaped like an L. Not seeing many hornets, I took the crooked end of the stick and swung. The stick bounced off the nest and did no damage, but the second I struck, I had already turned to run.

“Run!” Michael said.

I did. I tore up the ground to get to the edge of the woods where they stood. But nothing happened. No hornets chased me, so I returned and tapped it again. Immediately, I spun on my heels and ran to them again while glancing over my shoulder. This time about a half dozen hornets had pursued, but then midway across the field, they turned and flew back to the nest. Still, the nest showed no damage.

The third time I went to the nest, I was nervous. A few hornets were flying around and several more waited at the entrance. I thought I’d hit the nest one last time and if I didn’t damage the nest, I was done.

However, something occurred that I had not anticipated. This time, the L end of the walking stick lodged into the side of the nest and split the bottom half from the top half. The bottom dropped with a ball of hornets. A LOT of hornets. Angry ones. Before I could even turn to run, a swarm of hornets covered my left arm. In panic, I yelled and my feet were moving without my knowledge. I swatted them off my arm as I ran.

I read the panic in my cousins’ eyes as I sprinted right at them. I imagine their fear came from seeing the terror in my eyes. Once I reached the woods, the hornets dissipated and headed to defend their nest. Dozens of them swarmed the air above the broken nest on the ground. I was shaken.

Michael checked my arm. Seven stings. I was lucky. Although I felt no pain (perhaps due to shock), I viewed hornets in a whole new light. I held a great deal of respect for them. I learned how foolish it is to poke at a hornet’s nest. Regardless of how peaceful it looks on the outside, once someone provokes what’s inside, repercussions ensue.

The same can be said for those who, for whatever foolish reason, decide that it’s a good idea to attack someone’s reputation even when that person knows nothing about the individual he has sought to attack. If all someone has is hearsay, and no presentable facts, generally it’s a good thing to not poke a hornet’s nest. Or as my father always said, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

Some lessons are learned the hard way, like mine with the hornets. You only poke so many times before the wrath gets released.



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