Thursday, May 19, 2005

Persistence of the Wasps - Part 1

There are wasps living on my balcony.

They live their lives like any other ordinary paper wasps... but these are no ordinary hymenopterons. These wasps are special. This particular group chose the short overhang in the wall just above the sliding glass door that leads out onto my balcony. They are alive today because they made that decision; and I am richer for it.

It was a sunny day in April when the wasps invaded my apartment complex. The trees were already shedding the petaled lingerie of their lusty spring orgy; and the pollen which flowed over the asphalt in rivers of gold just days before was now concentrated in thin lines along the gutters of the streets and parking lots. Scorned lovers, Dear John letters from one blossoming tree to another were lying dishevelled in grubby clumps mixed with dirt, bearing witness to the inequity of life.

Walking groggily out into the warmth of the sunlight, I stretched and yawned, and revelled in the beautiful reds and greens that met my gaze... when suddenly, from out of nowhere, I was buzzed by an obviously disgruntled co-inhabitant of my sacred space. My first reaction was to hop backwards through the sliding glass door and slide it very quickly shut. Then I looked swiftly all around me to make sure that whatever it was hadn't come even further into the place that I consider to be mine for the moment. He... it... she... hadn't.

When I looked out the glass of the doorway - I saw a captivating sight. There were wasps working on their nests. Yes... nests. From the doorway I could see 2 distinct groups of wasps clinging to the roof of my balcony and clustering around central points that I knew would soon become the anchors for their new colonies. A bit more investigation proved that there was a third nest anchored just outside and just above my sliding glass door. This discovery was a bit alarming, but a tad exciting as well. It's not everyday that multiple groups of wasps decide to change the zoning of your balcony to prime residential real estate.

It is fascinating that these individuals, each a princess who had survived the winter in solitude, had chosen this day, this very hour, to join forces and strive together to build what nature was inspiring them to build. There were, at that moment, immediately outside my apartment alone, four separate groups of wasps working diligently, (the fourth group was discovered less than a half an hour later trying to create an anchor just under the eve of my front door). How many thousands of other wasps were doing exactly the same thing all over in at least the local area? Had some great trumpet call echoed throughout the trees all around me, resounding in a frequency range beyond the grasp of human ears, signalling to the wasps in each of their individual locations that the moment for action and social cooperation had arrived?

However it came about, it was obvious that the time for solitude was over. Whatever was to come next was completely new for these, the oldest surviving paper wasps of this species now living in this, their world. Did they wonder, as they arrived at this unknown location with an overwhelming urge to create something new together, whether conditions had been like this for their great-great-great grandmothers on that long ago forgotten spring day? Had their mothers told them fables, passed down through the generations, which told of their distant relatives and the challenges that they overcame a whole year ago?

Had these wasps ever seen each other before the moment that they arrived, literally at my doorstep, to start doing what the Universe asked of them? Did they all just come to what looked to be a safe harbor, drop anchor, and hoist some secret, unrevealed flags to let the others in the vicinity know of their intentions? How did they all get here? How did they decide who would work with who? Why was it that this has been happening every year, for eons, and I was just now getting to see it in action?

I wonder what life would be like if humans were able to discern every one of nature's trumpet calls that sound out every day with unfathomable regularity. I wonder how much differently we would chose to live our daily lives if we were actually able to understand, with clarity, what is really going on all around us. Why do they get to know, without a doubt, what they're supposed to do, and how they're supposed to live, while I'm left wondering about my purpose? Perhaps it's yet another sign of the inequity of life.