Read Old Man Scanlon


31 July 2013

An organ pipe mud dauber is building a nest in the ornamental tin-roofed wren house Cheryl hung by the door. I hear her stridulating at her masonry work, and see her carry a small ball of mud into the bird house, a first for me, even though I’ve casually watched her predecessors for years. Our paths are bound, by simple proximity, to intersect before long. One day she emerges just as I step outside, rockets up, appraises me, hovers motionless at point-blank range. I freeze. She stares me in the eye. I gain a more mature understanding of “in your face.” Iridescent steely blue-black, she—an insect—has goddamn presence. Even though I outweigh her by roughly 343,000 to one, I’m the one who backs down. I inch my hand up to make the Vulcan “live long and prosper” sign and will my body to slide backward several centimeters. Appeased, she resumes her business. I breathe.

My wishes for her prosperity are sincere—anybody who feeds spiders to her young is OK with me. Sad to say, I see her only a couple more times. Though I easily could have missed her first appearance, her tenure seems too short. These wasps are supposed to be quick workers, but I still fear she may not have died in her sleep. Web sources say she abandons the nest when egg-laying is done, but are mute on her subsequent life. Does she die immediately? Live until the first frost, pollinating flowers and sipping nectar? Some weeks later I spot another of her species ravaging a stand of goldenrod. This one’s eating, I think, and she’s probably still laying eggs. My chance observation suggests that my girl, her work uncompleted, met her nemesis in a bird, a car’s windshield, or even a nasty microbe. Come spring, I’ll watch the wren house for her children, and tell them how I met their mother.