, Corbin, KY

April 4, 2013

Eager, wary and armed for spring

The Times-Tribune

CORBIN —     I’ve taken an immediate notice to the blooming pear trees — the next step in the process of bringing the world back into a more greener season.

While at home the Easter weekend, I noticed it too — a neighbor has a huge pear tree in his front yard that’s exploded in color. I myself have a blooming forsythia bush — it was from my late grandmother’s home in northeastern Pennsylvania, and this is the first year its yellow flowers have shown.

I noticed something else — the ever-present insect world has begun to wake as well. Several sluggish wasps clung to the warm side of the house, and a few of those dreaded wood-borer beetles were buzzing around.

I don’t have any real “insect-o-phobias,” but a few years ago I thrice battled nature’s insects, only to lose — miserably, painfully lose.

This trio of attacks all happened within about three or four weeks’ time, which almost makes it worse (or funny, depending on your sense of humor).

I had purchased some “distressed” flowers at a local nursery, had them bagged and took them home. I didn’t have time to get them in the ground, so I put them in the yard where they would get the required sun and rain.

A week or so later, I went and got them from their temporary growing spot. They were the same type of flower, a primrose, one red and one yellow.

I planted the yellow one (which has also started blooming) without incident.

Then I dug the hole for the red one, and reached for the flower container.

I squeezed the container, loosening the soil and plant from the plastic pot.

Holding the plant in my left hand, I made the motion to get it to the hole I’d dug.

I felt a pinch.

And a second pinch.

And then a half-dozen more pinches, and it was getting painful. I dropped the plant, and a couple seconds later, the plant was almost impossible to see — apparently a queen fire ant chose the soil as her colony’s new home, and I had invaded and destroyed it. I came out of that one with about a dozen welts on my hand, and one on my leg.

A week or so later, it came time to mow the grass. I was getting some help on the riding mower, so I was walking the yard to gather debris and stuff so my buddy could more easily mow.

There are several railroad ties at the bottom of my yard laying sort of helter-skelter, and I was getting those a little better stacked so more grass could get mowed.

The first one I moved without a problem.

Then I went for the second one.

The guy on the riding mower turned around and saw what was about to happen, but too late.

I can’t just pick them up — I have to stand at one end of the railroad tie, pick it up, and kind of toss it where I wanted it to go.

I got it to my chest, and felt a pinprick of pain on my calf.

I dismissed it.

I felt another one on my back.

I dismissed that one, too.

I felt another one on my forearm, and looked.

A nice, fat hornet was stabbing me with its stinger. I lifted the railroad tie up farther and looked underneath.

And my eyes bulged from my head. On the ground was a foot-wide circular depression, and another one underneath the tie.

I had split a huge hornet’s nest in half — and the hornets were less than happy.

With everything I had, I threw that railroad tie.

And ran.

I threw clothes every which way I could, running at top speed for the back door of the house. The guy on the mower said he’d never seen anything like it, and said if I had stopped at all, I would have probably been hospitalized or even killed. He said a huge black cloud emerged from the ground, almost cartoon-like, and in unison aimed for me.

I was stung more than 30 times by those hornets that day — I was pretty sick. The last sting came over an hour later when I went outside to retrieve my shorts — one of them was hiding in a pocket and nailed my hip.

My final insect battle that summer was with a creature I had never heard of before.

I was cleaning out a flower garden, and had started by removing the weeds. I reached under a lily to grab an errant dandelion when I got this weird burning, stinging pain on the back of my hand.

I jerked my hand back, shook it for a few seconds, and tried to get the feeling to subside.

It did a little, and I resumed weeding. A few weeds later, I reached under a lily again and BANG! Another serious burning sensation across the back of my hand.

Again I jerked my hand back, inspected the pained area, and shook my hand violently for almost a minute, vocalizing the pain with anAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH.”

Under some sort of control, I looked around the area where I was weeding and saw nothing unusual. After a few hesitant moves, I cautiously resumed weeding.

Two weeds later, I reached under the lily, this time getting the worse burning pain yet – this one included my fingers and wrist.

Infuriated and in pain, I angrily looked through the flowerbed looking for the culprit.

Finally, I got my head on ground-level and looked into the garden – and found the critter.

Under every leaf of the three lilies planted in that garden, there was this colorful little thing. It was bright green, and kind of shaped like a wide U. On each end were these little pointy-looking things.

I later learned, after some research, that they were saddleback caterpillars. Those pointy things were venomous stingers. My hand and forearm turned red, swelled and had that burning pain for weeks after that.

I am still welcoming the upcoming warmer months — I’m sure I sing to the choir when I say I’m over the winter weather and cold temperatures.

But I’m also armed with the latest and most potent insect repellent. Insects, watch out.

Reporter John Ross can be reached at