Step into my parlor

On Friday morning, the exterminator came as promised to destroy the hornets’ nest by our backyard dog-pen. After all the hoopla leading up to the occasion–a week of walking the dogs to avoid taking them to the pen, and a week of parking my car as far away from the nest as possible–the actual procedure was almost anticlimactic, with the exterminator arriving promptly at 10 am and taking approximately five minutes to spray the nest: quick and easy.

Spider web on shrub

Both J and I thought the exterminator would dress in protective clothing and spray the nest from a distance, using some sort of jet-sprayer or at least a long stick to pry into the nest from afar. But instead, the exterminator did the job wearing nothing but a company-branded T-shirt and work pants: no long sleeves, no goggles, and no face mask. (By comparison, I’d taken to wearing a thick fleece jacket when I took the dogs to or from the dog-pen, and to keeping my head down, with my face shrouded with my own hair, before I gave up approaching the dog-pen entirely.)

Spider web in sunlight

This, of course, is the difference between someone who knows how to do something and someone who doesn’t. The exterminator walked straight toward the nest, sprayed a tiny container of insecticide directly into the entrance, deftly leaped back while the hornets flew in an upset orbit around the nest, and then leaped toward the nest to repeat the process: leap in, spray; leap out, wait. It was almost like a dance, with the exterminator’s movements exactly timed with those of the hornets. The exterminator knew when to attack and when to retreat, and the industrial-strength insecticide he used was clearly effective, disturbing a small cloud of hornets that briefly circled the nest but quickly succumbed. In a matter of minutes, a task J or I might have done clumsily, ineptly, or entirely ineffectively was done definitively: the end.

Spider web on grass

Before he left, the exterminator said to leave the nest alone for a day or so, as it sometimes takes a while for individual hornets who were out foraging to return to the nest and die. By afternoon, however, J and I tentatively approached the still-intact nest to see if we could detect any activity in or near it, and it seemed silenced for good: no hornets flying around it, no discernible movement within it, and a few dead hornets scattered on the ground beneath it. In a matter of minutes, a thriving colony of creatures who had lived in our backyard for months was eliminated, their paper house standing as a mute reminder of what happens when you call in the professionals.

Spider web on grass

On Saturday, J disposed of the nest, clipping it out of the shrub where it had been attached then smashing it on the ground, emitting a puff of insecticide and a scattering of dead larvae before gathering the pieces into the trash. It seems strange that a threat I’d grown accustomed to fearing is suddenly gone. I still flinch when I take the dogs to or from their pen, my muscle-memory hunching my shoulders defensively as I instinctively keep my back toward the shrub where the nest used to be. How long will it be before I’ve forgotten the risk and can approach the dog-pen gate carelessly, no longer scanning the air for sunlight glinting off incoming insects?

Spider web with raindrops

The sense of hushed awe I feel after watching the exterminator deftly dispatch this nuisance nest is oddly similar to the sense of anticlimax I felt when we put Reggie to sleep. The injection worked so quickly and quietly–so easily–there was an element of disbelief running parallel with my relief. After all the hard work it took to keep Reggie alive in his final months–after how fiercely Reggie himself had clung to life, refusing to relinquish even his increasingly feeble grasp–could that strong, stubborn, and resilient life be snuffed out so quietly, so quickly, without even the merest hint of resistance or struggle? Is life truly so fragile–so tenuous–that it can be extinguished irrevocably with just the right dose of chemicals, expertly administered?

Today’s photos of spider webs come from this time last year, when our neighborhood web-weavers seemed particularly active.