Boys, Rocks, and Hornets

“I’m bored.” brother said. “There’s nothing to do.”

“Get out of the house and go for a walk.” mom told the boys. “Go run around the back pasture or something. It’s a beautiful day outside. Go get some sun. Have some fun.”

Reluctantly, the boys got their shoes on and trudged up the lane to the back fields. The hot summer sun and dusty path provided plenty of dirt clods to pick up and throw. One brother threw a clod against the stone wall and smiled as it exploded in a satisfying puff. The others joined in and took turns selecting dirt clods and various targets.

As they continued walking the lane changed to less dirt to more gravel and grass. Dirt clods were soon replaced with small stones as ammunition. These flew farther and straighter, but lacked the dramatic finish of the clods. They needed a better target.

One brother spotted a large hornet nest hanging from a branch directly over the lane ahead. It was almost the size of half a basketball. Great big white-faced hornets circled the hive and moved in and out of the bottom entrance hole. Brother held his arm out to stop the group.

We all watched as he carefully aimed, threw his rock, and missed. Another brother lined up his shot and whipped his arm in a sideways arc like he was trying to skip a stone on water. His flat rock flew and rose as it spun into the leafy branches above the nest. Another miss.

Each of the brothers selected stones and took turns trying to score a hit. A few moments passed before anyone succeeded. That first stone glanced off the side of the nest making a shallow dent in the gray papery material. The hornets increased their activity around the hive. Several more rapidly emerged from the nest and joined others in a protective orbit.

The brothers laughed at the results and each eagerly took his turn attempting more hits and greater hornet response. One, two, three more hits in quick succession and the hive now had small holes where stones pierced the side wall. At least two of the stones did not pass through the other side and were presumably stuck inside. The hornets multiplied in the air. The boys kept their distance downwind and laughed at the activity.

A brother picked up a larger stone, close to full hand size and said, “Let’s see if we can knock the nest out of the tree.”

His shot missed and the rock landed on the ground under the nest. Other brothers threw large stones and also missed. The heavier stones were harder to throw and when they hit the ground under the nest, small clouds of dust kicked up. The boys grew more excited at each near miss. The original few sentry hornets were now numbering in the couple dozen and made swooping turns in a large circle under the tree.

Rock after rock was thrown until someone heard a tractor approaching. Their uncle was driving from the back pasture back to the barn. He would pass directly under the nest. The boys looked at each other and knew it was time to leave. They each threw their last stones and ran further away and took cover behind some big rocks.

The tractor steadily approached. Their uncle drove casually in the summer sun. He emerged from behind the tree line and took the turn into the lane. The boys saw him look sharply down at the many stones that had appeared since he drove up earlier in the day. He stopped the tractor and stared as he puzzled about how they got there.

The hornets moved in. The diesel exhaust, engine noise, and warm body was just the target they needed to defend against. Hornet after hornet smacked against his head and neck. The first few did not sting him, these were bully attacks. They flew fast and crashed into their enemy to drive them away. If that did not happen quickly, the stingers came out.

Their uncle had stopped the tractor by pushing in the clutch and stepping on the brake. As the hornets attacked, he jumped in the seat releasing both in a sudden lurch. The tractor bounced and moved forward placing the exhaust directly beneath the nest. Now hot diesel smoke rose up into the nest for a few seconds and disturbed the entire hive. The tractor continued moving forward as their uncle swatted at hornets in a losing attempt to ward them off.

He reached for the throttle and jammed it forward. The tractor accelerated up the lane and cleared him from the hive’s vicinity. Several hornets gave chase for a persistent distance up the next rise before turning back to home base.

The boys watched their uncle continue to swing his hat around at hornets that may or may not be there as he jerked the steering wheel in jagged course corrections. He did not slow down until he approached the barn.

They stayed out of sight until they could not hear the tractor. They looked at the nest and the angry swarm that still surrounded it. Mom had been right. They did need to get out of the house and have some fun in the sun.

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