A newly discovered yellow jacket nest under my porch must be destroyed. The decision has been made before anyone has even laid eyes on it; removing the lattice-work to take a look would be hazardous. Dozens of hornets come zipping out at the slightest vibration — a heavy tread above their heads, for example — so we figure it must be big. It seems to be right over the door to the furnace, so there’s no question it has to go, and the sooner the better, before it grows enormous. I resolve to do it tonight, after dark.
The prospect of killing an entire colony isn’t something I relish, though I’ve done it before. A feeling of dread settles in the pit of my stomach. I go for an evening walk around the trails.
In the woods on the crest of Laurel Ridge I spy what looks like the top of a human skull resting on the moss: an enormous, bone-yellow bolete. I stand looking down at it for a while, and it’s almost an out-of-body experience.
A scolding blue jay finally snaps me out of it. It’s not clear if it’s scolding me or some other large predator, so I stand for a while longer, listening and alert.
A couple hundred feet away on another trail, a few clumps of the aptly named black trumpet mushroom are silhouetted against the moss, poised as if to herald the coming night. I consider harvesting them — they’re delicious — but decide instead to leave them alone and return the next morning with a camera.
It’s nearly dark when I get back. I fetch a large coffee can from the basement of my parents’ house and put a splash of gasoline on the bottom, then find a sturdy piece of cardboard and a box of kitchen matches. I carry it all down to the yard in front of the porch, set up a dim lantern, and gingerly remove the lattice. I can see immediately that my tried-and-true method of placing a can over the nest and quickly sliding in a cardboard lid, severing the nest’s overhead attachment, won’t work this time. The nest isn’t going to fit in the can — it’s already almost as big as my head. What’s more, it appears to be securely attached to the beam behind it.
Plan B is simpler and more brutal. Dad mentioned he had a can of wasp and ant spray, so I go fetch that, instead: d-trans Allethrin. Rainbow brand.
Fortunately, it’s a cool night — the temperature is already in the low 50s — so resistance should be minimal. I direct a long blast of the insecticide into the opening of the nest from about two feet away, then stand back. An eerie, high-pitched boiling sound ensues. Imagine all the inhabitants of a paper city shrieking in unison. I stand in the dark listening for three or four minutes until it dies away.
The next morning, only a single hornet circles the nest, which I examine in daylight for the first time. It’s beautiful, if you can ignore the small corpses clogging the entrance. It would make a fine lampshade, I think.