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My wife has been stung twice recently by wasps. She was picking blackberries a few weeks ago when the first sting came. She showed me the nest hiding high in the blackberry canes, and I said I would spray it and get rid of them. But she didn’t want me to; there were still berries to pick and she didn’t want them contaminated with insecticide.

We have blackberries covering a stretch of about 50 yards. Every day for the last month or more we have picked about a gallon. We will never be able to use the blackberries we have, and I do not worry about losing a few. Yesterday another wasp from the same nest stung her, and this morning her hand was red and terribly swollen.

I took the spray out to the blackberries, found the nest, and doused it. Several wasps took flight, a few tumbled down through the thorns, and one held on. I sprayed it again, needlessly probably, but I wanted it gone. I wanted to pluck off the nest and crush it for good measure. But that one kept circling the nest on needly legs, slowly and with determination. Old warrior, I thought, the last of the clan, still trying to protect the nest. But then recalling that this is brood I thought it was probably a female, a mother, refusing to give up on the next generation. I sprayed it again and again until it too fell and I pinched off the nest and crushed it underfoot. I felt a little heartless. Wasps are beings too, just trying to live. But it is important to me to protect my family, and killing that last brave wasp was part of that mission.

When I walked back up to the house my daughter asked for my help. She has volunteered to tend a severely wounded horse, a graceful Palomino mare who got caught up in barbed wire and sustained some really gruesome injuries. The horse would have been put down, except she is showing a healthy appetite and every desire to live. It takes me some force of will just to look at her injuries, and my daughter has to clean and disinfect and re-bandage them a few times a day.

I had to hold the mare while my daughter cleaned her stall. I took the lead rope and stood in the yard, the horse hungrily cropping clover and grass while I watched. She is a sweet tempered, gentle animal, with big brown eyes and eyelashes as fine as those on a My Little Pony. I’m told that she is mostly a trail horse, and I imagine she would be an easy ride. I stroked her neck and her back while she ate, my heart filling with sympathy for her, knowing there is a likelihood that still, if her wounds do not heal or they become infected, she will have to be euthanized. This thought haunted my whole day.

I may feel wicked for the glee I take in destroying a wasp nest down to the last survivor. But I also cannot help being moved by the plight of an injured mare. Both emotions stirred me within a half hour on this sunny August morning, all before I shaved and dressed and drove to work. Again I realized that a life closer to nature, near to other living things, is a life that challenges your emotions and makes you define your humanity.

My wife came out of the house about the time we were finished working with the mare. I told her that I had killed the wasps. ‘Oh,’ my daughter said, leading the mare away, ‘there’s another wasp nest in the barn, right in her stall.’ Immediately my instincts kicked in, spelling out who was the enemy, who needed protection, and what was my role in the drama.