In the middle of July hornets started to build a hive in the small fruit tree next to my mailbox. Shortly after I first moved into my house, my prior mailbox had been flattened in the middle of the night. I woke in the morning to find my old mailbox crushed on the side of the road as flat as a Pepsi can left on the macadam. I replaced the mailbox with a Rubber Maid contraption that jiggled and threatened to come apart whenever I opened the plastic flap of a door.
The hornets had a cantaloupe-sized hive in progress. The hornet nest wasn’t that big. I had seen one as large as volleyball. A few summers ago I’d removed one the size of a watermelon from the tree behind the house.
I took the hose and set it to the conical spray and then sprayed the hive at the point where it was connected to the tree. The nest popped off the branch. It fell onto the cement lip edging my lawn and the street.
Hornets started flying around looking for whatever had caused this to happen, but it had been me from the other side of the yard. They couldn’t find me. I circled around the fence with the hose and stood about ten feet away and sprayed the nest until it broke into pieces.
The nest had been constructed like a giant paper acorn. Inside the hive various levels where the hornet’s larvae lived in combs. Unlike a honeycomb though the hornet nest was just paper and tiny hexagonal cells were the larvae lived. The hive broke into sections. The hornets by this time were confused. Many of them were still looking for their nest on the branch where it had originally been. They couldn’t tell that it was now about ten feet away, in the middle of the road, and would soon be as flat as any thing left out there.
I ran up to the nest and kicked it like a soccer ball. The water-saturated paper broke apart. Each level was a solid mass of hornet larvae and honeycomb paper. The levels skittered down the street like hockey pucks. I returned inside thinking I’d removed the nest. It was done.
The nest day confused hornets still mingled on the branch looking for their home. The nest I’d kicked into the street had been run over so often that it was nearly gone. The only sign now that there had even been a nest were curls of damp, grey paper by the mailbox.
I figured the hornets would move to another location. They would understand that this spot was not good. They would move to another spot where they could set up their home.
I noticed when I came home from work that the hornets had started to lay down paper for a new nest at the same spot where their old nest had been. I sprayed down the branch and went to sleep. In the morning, the hornets still seemed crawled all over their spot where their nest had been.
For the next couple of weeks, I sprayed down the branch every day. But, the hornets kept coming to the branch to congregate. At night, they slept on the branches. In the dawn, I would spray them off. I figured they would figure out that disaster had struck, that disaster would continue to strike, that living anywhere else would be preferable to living on that branch. Certainly, whatever behavior guided them had figured out a long time ago that building a nest in a spot where it would be removed over and over again would mean that it would be a good idea to move your nest somewhere else?
Ants don’t build anthills on mudslides. Birds don’t build nests in bon fires. People don’t build houses on tidal flats, do they?
The hornets even without a hive defended the place where their hive had been. They assaulted the mailman when he tried to put circulars into my rickety plastic mailbox. They swarmed a neighborhood girl as she played in our yard. She put up the hood to her jacket to avoid getting stung and ran.
I pruned the branch that the hornets had used to fix their hive to the tree. I wondered if they would just float around the spot where the branch and their nest had been? But, I noticed a few days later that without even the branch, they had nowhere to go and so they were finally gone.