Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River. It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.
Now, I was not raised in the Neolithic period, although some here and in my real life sometimes get that impression. When I was little we had TeeVee, Channel 5 out Fort Smith, Arkansas (KFSA, now KSFM, that broadcast programs from all three networds (at the time, ABC, CBS, and NBC) depending on the popularity and the content. We also had Channel 8 out of Tulsa, Oklahoma (KTUL) that had at the time the highest TeeVee transmission tower in the nation. KTUL was exclusively ABC at the time, so KFSA did not run very many ABC programs.
But my life did not revolve around TeeVee. There were lots more things to do. Please come back with me over the years to explore what kids used to do for fun.
When I was really little, around three to six years, my entire universe was the house and the yard. The house was interesting, but outside was more. I remember a papershell pecan tree on the northeast side of the yard, a mockernut hickory tree just to south of it, two ancient post oaks on the south side, and a hollow hackberry tree betwixt the oaks and the hickory. In the back yard was a very large black walnut tree, and over the unused well grew absolutely beautiful wisteria vines that smelt wonderful when they were in bloom.
The post oak trees had some sort of growth on the undersides of the leaves, and they looked sort of like mold on bread. I wondered about that as a child, and now know that they were nests for eggs laid by insects. They looked really neat to me at the time. I only got to see them when storms knocked a few leaves off, because I was not nearly tall enough to pick the leaves from the limbs myself.
Those same storms sometimes carried hailstones, and I remember putting a few in the freezer (those were called "the deep freeze" at the time). They had tubercules coming off of them, and looked very strange and wonderful. Can you tell that since I became cognizant that practically everything is interesting to me?
As I go older, the yard was not enough.
Just behind the little pasture was Hackett Creek, also known as Big Creek. It was pretty much a fair weather creek, trickling to almost a stop in the midst of summer when rain was rare and exportation was big. But there were always turtles to find, often crawfish, and one never knew what was under that next large but thin piece of shale. I spent many an hour there, alone and with a friend, just exploring. Now and then there were snakes (I was propangandized to think that they were all poisonous water moccasins, but most of them were just harmless water snakes) and sometimes leeches. I hate a leech! One got on the former Mrs. Translator and had little ones on her leg (evidently at least one indigenous species is viviparous) and she freaked out then. That was the last swim that we took in that body of water!
Another fascination was what we called dirt daubers. They are actually solitary wasps, all female except for the very few males that serve only to fertilize them. The females have hardly a sting, but are very energetic. They go to mud puddles and collect the mud, then use it to construct elaborate nests for their eggs. They separate each cell with a mud wall, laying an egg just before sealing the next wall. They only lay a couple of dozen eggs at most, at least for the species in Hackett. But here is the interesting thing.
They prey on spiders. Their sting is a paralytic but not fatal blow to the spiders. Before they seal off a given cell, they lay a single egg onto the immobilized spider. Ass the egg hatches and becomes a larva, it uses the immobilized spider as a food source, eating it literally alive. Dad HATED dirt daubers, and that was because they have a propensity for building their nests in old cars (which he loved to restore) and in the shop where they were.
We had at least two species, from my memory of their nests. One kind built long, single celled nests were each spider and egg were in a line. Another built sort of spherical ones, the eggs and spiders being arranged more cylindrically than spherically now that I remember better. In both cases there was only one escape route for the newly adult insect, out from the surface.
As I said, Dad hated them and would encourage me to take a stick and poke at the nests to dislodge both the wasp grubs and the spider hosts. I did that often, and now sort of regret interfering with the life cycle of another living being. But I can not take that back, and the variety of spiders was extremely interesting. It looks now that the wasps would use any spider that it was able to take, but I have a suspicion that they are sort of species specific.
That brings me to last week. I am no longer going to use silly labels for the people in my life, and if anyone were intent on knowing who my loved ones are would long ago been able to deduce their names. I was sitting on Ashley's (formerly The Girl, then The Woman, now just Ashley) front porch and espied a dirt dauber nest on her east wall, just by a window. It was one of the long ones. You have to remember that it was already autumn.
Alexis (formerly The Little Girl, now just Alexis) is a very curious and intelligent child who I think of as my own spawn, but she is not. No matter. She and I took a stick and poked the chambers and out fell exoskeletons of formerly alive spiders! She was afraid at first, but soon realized that they all were dead. I noticed that each cell had an almost perfectly round hole, eaten from the inside out, where the adult dirt dauber had escaped. That was too subtle for Alexis, since she is only three and a half years old.
Alexis and I had been playing ball in the yard whilst Ashley was doing some housework. Alexis got excited and went in to get Ashley to come and see, and see she did. Ashley loves nature, and was fascinated about the exoskeletons of the long dead spiders. She will make a really good scientist someday IF I can keep good influence on her, but that is for another time.
Actually, that is a misnomer. A real bumblebee is a ground living, social insect that can be really nasty with stings if you happen to provoke a colony. What we called bumblebees were really wood bees, or as some call them, carpenter bees. They are solitary females that have really powerful mandibles that can drill through wood like it is candy, and they weaken structures.
They are neat things to watch. They are extremely territorial, and buzz around their tubes drilled in wood, like in the barn at home, constantly during daylight. Dad hated them as well, because the are quite destructive. I found a wooden paddle, actually an old red oak roof shingle, and used my pocket knife to fashion a handle. It was about 18 inches long, four inches wide, and maybe a quarter of in inch thick. It was the ideal bat to use against them!
At the time I did not know that they do not carry a stinger, so I was sort of afraid of them. The did not deter me, and my friend Rex, from arming and battling them. I have no tally of how many we batted to the death, and as I said, I sort of regret that. However, I can not change reality.
Here is something interesting. Dad had an old saying, most likely from the north west coast of England, my grandparent's ancestral home. He had two versions. It is a tickle process for little ones, and Alexis loves it when I tickle her saying it, and so does Josiah. Ashley sort of likes it, too, but that is private. Here is how it goes.
The bumblebee came out of the barn,You always tickle the loved ones when you say BUZZ!
With a bagpipe under his arm,
and he went BUZZZ!
The bumblebee came out of the barn,
With a milkpail under his arm,
and he went BUZZ!
Alexis has hijacked that one to use for Josiah! I really like old traditions being handed down to the next generation, and this on is really old. If anyone knows about old stories, please comment.
Batting the Wasps
Well, it did not take long for Rex and me to go to the next step. Wasps are very common in Hackett, and everyone hates them for good reason. There are three main kinds there.
Black wasps are sort of large and slow, but have a potent sting. Like all of the others described here, they are the result of a solitary female that lays hundreds of eggs in a paper nest that she constructs. It starts out small, but can contain hundreds of brood cells by the end of the season. They like to build their nests in the open but out of direct sunlight. Ends of gables are one of their favorites. They are very aggressive, but go away after a few yards.
Red wasps have, typically, smaller broods but find shelter in places that light does not ever find. They love hollow fence posts, and I have been run off by them just by tapping a post. I found a nest in the refuse pipe in a motor home once. They are very aggressive, but give up if you run away a few yards.
What we called "yellowjackets" are really just smallish, striped wasps. They build nests in the same places as black wasps, but are more prolific and much more aggressive. They will chase you for many meters, and they love to sting! Now comes the fun!
Rex and I both had the thin bats that I have described before. He and I would approach a wasp nest and either throw a rock on it, or later, shoot a pellet from the pellet gun into it. The wasps would go crazy, and boil out of the nest, looking to sting anyone nearby!
Then he and I would go to town with the bats, knocking them down hard, and killing most of them on contact. The battle would last only about a minute or two, and either the wasps or Rex and I would give up, depending on the size of the nest. Neither he nor I was ever stung by a wasp doing this, and it was fun at the time. Now regret killing lifeforms for no better reason than for fun, but at the time it was fun.
That about does it from Hackett tonight. Interestingly, one of the things that I really liked to do when I was little was rush home from school to watch Dark Shadows on the TeeVee, the original series starring Jonathan Frid as Barnabus. I finally delivered Ashley's final part of her birthday present yesterday, the just released on DVD Johnny Depp movie version of Dark Shadows. The plan is for us to watch it together tonight and bake some Halloween cookies.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith