Bees!

Thank you for reading this. Sometimes, I think if you didn’t read this, no one would. But you do.

A sharp-eyed reader suggested that, in last week’s column about cutting firewood, I neglected to mention one of the most notorious dangers in the woods — bees!

We’re not talking about honeybees. There is no honey in hornet nests. Just more hornets!

We call them bees because that’s what we scream when black hornets and yellow jackets attack.

The Olympic Peninsula is fortunate not to have a lot of the other annoying pests that plague some parts of our country. We have no rattlesnakes. We have no grizzlies. Nationwide, however, bald-faced hornets and yellow jackets are more dangerous, in terms of human fatalities from anaphylactic shock, than all the rattlers and grizzlies put together.

It all started last spring, when the solitary queen wasp emerged from hibernation and started building her paper nest out of chewed up wood and saliva.

She was a shy and lonely vegetarian pollinator, subsisting on a diet of nectar from the huckleberry blossoms. Her nest started out about the size of a golf ball.

These small nests are easy prey for the blue jays that peck the middle out of the nest to get the tasty larvae growing inside. Bears also feed on wasp nests, but generally in the fall of the year when there are enough grubs to make a meal.

There could be a tougher way to make a living than eating hornet nests, but I am not sure what that would be. If you hate hornets and yellow jackets as much as I do, blue jays and bears are your friends.

As the wasps hatch, a new generation of workers emerges from the nest. Some chew up wood to enlarge the nest. Others kill bugs or gather carrion to feed the hatching larvae that are metamorphosing into pupae and flying adults.

All the while, the queen lays eggs to enlarge the swarm.

At this point, a word of sympathy might be in order for the wasps. Hornets and yellow jackets do a good job getting rid of garden pests, but we generally don’t care once we get a bee sting.

Along about midsummer, the nest was the size of a baseball. The hornets became more aggressive.

Hitting the nest with a lawnmower, or some other noisy power toy, causes the hornets to release an attack pheromone that activates the swarm like a 9-1-1 call. It puts them into an attack mode that is unforgettable to those unfortunate enough to experience it.

As autumn approaches, the nest can be the size of a watermelon, with hundreds of bees coming and going.

As the worker bees feed the larvae, the larvae feed the bees a sugary excrement in exchange.

As the days shorten and autumn approaches, the larvae pupate, depriving the worker bees of their food.

Right about now, the hornets and yellow jackets are hungry and looking for sweets. That’s why they attack honey bee nests, picnics and anything else with sugar content.

Not only are the bees hungry, the male wasps know they are destined to mate and die. That’s seems to make them meaner, attacking without warning after even the slightest provocation — like rolling a chunk of firewood on top of their nest.

Experts advise to remain calm during a hornet or yellow jacket attack.

I have never seen that done.

The best you can do is to avoid wearing brightly colored clothing in the woods and watch your step.

It’s all part of the fun of cutting firewood or doing anything else outdoors this time of year.

 

Fall Sports

AUTUMN MUST BE my favorite time of year. It’s all about the sports. Baseball is building tension as we head toward the World Series. The football season kicked off the long, hard road to the Super Bowl.

In addition, we are into the middle of the most rugged of all contact sports, cutting firewood.

The Olympic Peninsula offers some world-class firewood cutting opportunities where the roar of the saw, the aroma of fresh pitch and the ache in the lower back takes us back to an earlier, simpler time when loggers ruled the earth.

Whoever said cutting firewood warms you twice, once in the cutting and once in the burning, was a real greenhorn. Cutting firewood warms you in more ways than you can shake a stick at.

First, you must start your chain saw, if you have one.

There’s nothing like jerking a pull cord on a chainsaw to warm you up.

After five or 10 minutes, you may want to check for fuel.

Got gas? Then you may have to get creative.

Take out the spark plug and give it a few pulls. Put the spark plug back in. Continue pulling. Drag the saw back to the road. Tangle in a mess of blackberry vines. Step into a mountain beaver hole and go down in a pile of limbs. Land where a hidden stump catches you in the swimsuit area.

You should be plenty warm by now.

This is before you have cut even a single stick of firewood. It’s once you get your chainsaw started that the real fun starts.

It is important to read all safety instructions when operating a chainsaw — especially the ones that mention injury, dismemberment and death.

There are generally three types of firewood on the Peninsula to choose from. It’s either in the road, above the road or below the road.

Firewood in the road would be our first choice, but you may have to look above the road where gravity is your friend.

Rolling rounds of firewood down a hill is one of the more traditional outdoor sports.

Watching with childlike wonder as the wooden wheel bounces down the hill, gathering speed until it slams into the side of your truck is one of the greatest thrills of nature.

Often a few raps with some common firewood cutting tools, such as a splitting maul or an ax, can easily repair minor damage and restore the truck’s showroom finish. Then again, if you were worried about how your truck looked, you wouldn’t be using it haul firewood in the first place.

More extensive damage to your vehicle, such as a fender bashed against a wheel that prevents it from turning, can often be fixed with the aid of a peavy. This is a logger’s torture device that can serve as an all-around automotive repair tool, combining a medieval pike with a wicked hook near the end that can be used to pry most anything apart, once you get a hold of it.

Splitting, loading, unloading and stacking the wood to dry allows you to become intimately familiar with each piece until you could almost name them all.

These are often bad names — given after you bark your shin, smash your foot or pull a splinter the size of a shingle bolt out of your hand.

Toughen up. Cutting firewood is a contact sport.

It is all worthwhile at the end of the day, when you have your first chimney fire.

This is yet another one of the many ways that firewood can warm you up.

 

Disaster Preparedness Month

SEPTEMBER IS NATIONAL Disaster Preparedness Month. It’s time to raise awareness about the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies.

As you read this, the forests of the Olympic Peninsula have been dehydrated by an east wind that could spawn a conflagration of epic proportions. It’s happened before. Chances are it will happen again.

As you read this, massive tectonic plates deep beneath the ocean are grinding against each other just offshore in the Cascadia Subduction zone.

It’s just waiting for a chance to slip and cause an earthquake that could be of magnitude 8 or 9, like those off Indonesia in 2004 and Japan in 2011, producing a tsunami of unknown height and speed that could slam into our coastline as little as 15 minutes later.

The destructive effects of a subduction event could destroy nearly every structure and road on the Peninsula. It’s happened before. It will happen again.

Scientists have estimated more than 40 earthquakes greater than magnitude 8 have occurred here in the last 10,000 years. The last one was Jan. 27, 1700. Our population and infrastructure have increased since then.

The carnage and destruction of another Cascadia event would be an unimaginable disaster that could leave the area without transportation, utilities, food supplies or medical care for months.

As you read this, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters are predicting a three-peat of La Nina, which is a cooling of the Pacific Ocean which can bring the Pacific Northwest below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation this coming winter. In other words, get out your long johns.

Besides finding your underwear, there are many other disaster preparedness plans.

  1. Panic. Experts are always telling us not to panic. It’s bad advice. I say panic early and often. It’s never too early to panic. Panic is your friend. Practice panicking now before the disaster hits. Maybe you’ll panic enough to check your smoke detector, get a fire extinguisher and a Disaster Preparedness Kit. It’s a good excuse to hoard extra food, water and batteries for all your electronic junk.
  2. Migrate. Millions of birds are beginning their migration down our Pacific coast from the Arctic tundra to the tropics. Get a clue. One of the best ways to avoid a disaster here is to leave home and head south. Problem solved.
  3. Bulk up.Here is another tip we can take from our animal friends, many of whom are incapable of migrating south. Bears, for example, spend the summer and autumn putting on fat to adapt to the colder winter weather. In addition to the survival benefits of having an increased blubber index, the larger you are, the more likely you will be seen by would-be rescuers when disaster strikes.
  4. Grow your hair longer. In addition to blubber, many creatures grow a thicker coat of fur in the winter. Longer hair will not only keep you warmer, it will save you money on haircuts.
  5. Hibernate. I’m not saying that everyone can attain a state of true hibernation, like our iconic Olympic marmots or members of Congress, but you don’t know until you try. Hibernation is an inexpensive expedient to disaster preparedness that will not increase your carbon footprint.
  6. Contact your neighbors.A good neighbor will loan you stuff. Find out what to borrow from your neighbors now, before disaster strikes. By then, it will probably be too late.

These are just a few of the many things you can do for Disaster Preparedness Month, besides finding your underwear. We’ll thank ourselves later if we do the right thing now.

 

Disaster Preparedness Month.

SEPTEMBER IS NATIONAL Disaster Preparedness Month. It’s time to raise awareness about the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies.

As you read this, the forests of the Olympic Peninsula have been dehydrated by an east wind that could spawn a conflagration of epic proportions. It’s happened before. Chances are it will happen again.

As you read this, massive tectonic plates deep beneath the ocean are grinding against each other just offshore in the Cascadia Subduction zone.

It’s just waiting for a chance to slip and cause an earthquake that could be of magnitude 8 or 9, like those off Indonesia in 2004 and Japan in 2011, producing a tsunami of unknown height and speed that could slam into our coastline as little as 15 minutes later.

The destructive effects of a subduction event could destroy nearly every structure and road on the Peninsula. It’s happened before. It will happen again.

Scientists have estimated more than 40 earthquakes greater than magnitude 8 have occurred here in the last 10,000 years. The last one was Jan. 27, 1700. Our population and infrastructure have increased since then.

The carnage and destruction of another Cascadia event would be an unimaginable disaster that could leave the area without transportation, utilities, food supplies or medical care for months.

As you read this, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters are predicting a three-peat of La Nina, which is a cooling of the Pacific Ocean which can bring the Pacific Northwest below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation this coming winter. In other words, get out your long johns.

Besides finding your underwear, there are many other disaster preparedness plans.

  1. Panic. Experts are always telling us not to panic. It’s bad advice. I say panic early and often. It’s never too early to panic. Panic is your friend. Practice panicking now before the disaster hits. Maybe you’ll panic enough to check your smoke detector, get a fire extinguisher and a Disaster Preparedness Kit. It’s a good excuse to hoard extra food, water and batteries for all your electronic junk.
  2. Migrate. Millions of birds are beginning their migration down our Pacific coast from the Arctic tundra to the tropics. Get a clue. One of the best ways to avoid a disaster here is to leave home and head south. Problem solved.
  3. Bulk up.Here is another tip we can take from our animal friends, many of whom are incapable of migrating south. Bears, for example, spend the summer and autumn putting on fat to adapt to the colder winter weather. In addition to the survival benefits of having an increased blubber index, the larger you are, the more likely you will be seen by would-be rescuers when disaster strikes.
  4. Grow your hair longer. In addition to blubber, many creatures grow a thicker coat of fur in the winter. Longer hair will not only keep you warmer, it will save you money on haircuts.
  5. Hibernate. I’m not saying that everyone can attain a state of true hibernation, like our iconic Olympic marmots or members of Congress, but you don’t know until you try. Hibernation is an inexpensive expedient to disaster preparedness that will not increase your carbon footprint.
  6. Contact your neighbors.A good neighbor will loan you stuff. Find out what to borrow from your neighbors now, before disaster strikes. By then, it will probably be too late.

These are just a few of the many things you can do for Disaster Preparedness Month, besides finding your underwear. We’ll thank ourselves later if we do the right thing now.

 

The Blue-Tarp Campers.

THE BLUE-TARP CAMPER is named for a particular shade of inexpensive, blue plastic tarp that comes in various shapes and sizes. Blue-tarp campers celebrate our pioneer heritage, where less trouble means more enjoyment of outdoor adventures — no matter what the weather.

Last weekend, it rained in the rainforest.

The blue-tarp campers thumbed their noses at the rain and the ostentatious displays of wanton materialism clogging our highways and campgrounds with monster McMotorhomes, fifth-wheels, trailers, campers and that other aberration of the pioneer spirit, the rooftop tents.

The manufacturers of these monstrosities advertise them as “Part treehouse and part glamping tent, rooftop tents are an intriguing alternative to traditional tents that you see pitched at most car campgrounds. You can find models to fit on top of your car or truck.”

This summer the rooftop tents were all the rage among the motor campers, although I cannot imagine why. If climbing a skinny ladder up to the top of your vehicle to get into your rooftop tent sounds “intriguing,” then climbing back out of the tent and down the ladder in the middle of the night to answer the call of nature sounds like a real outdoor adventure.

Manufacturers of the rooftop tents stress that it’s a good idea to take down and secure the rooftop tent on top of your vehicle before driving away from your campsite. Duh.

It was a sound piece of advice that was obviously ignored by a certain rooftop tent camper seen motoring down U.S. Highway 101 last weekend with their rooftop tent still set up, spewing personal belongings on the roadway — while providing amusement, shock and awe to their fellow motorists.

To their credit, the rooftop tent was almost still standing at the speed limit, which is good to know if you ever want to camp in a typhoon.

Blue-tarp campers don’t have that problem.

Our camps fold up into tight little bundles. We don’t have to climb a ladder to hit the hay, either.

The blue-tarp camper wouldn’t want to.

We prefer the simple things in life.

You can’t sit by a campfire inside your rooftop tent or motor home. You can watch a video of a campfire on your phone or big screen TV, but it’s just not the same.

You’re missing the essential elements of camping — such as being outside with the campfire smoke, bugs and sparks burning holes in your clothes.

A real blue-tarp camper doesn’t need one of those sissy tents, either. The typical camper’s tent is a complicated device that was designed by someone with a sadistic sense of humor.

Every summer, countless hours are spent in various attempts to set the tents up. Often, in a fit of frustration over broken poles, missing parts and self-medication, the tent campers are forced to wrap the tent around them and sleep in a sort of a three-season cocoon that’s anything but comfortable.

A blue-tarp camper doesn’t need any of that stuff.

We hearken back to a simpler time, when you camped by your wits and a woodsman’s skill. With nothing but a bungee cord and a blue tarp, you could rig a lean-to that reflected the light of the fire into the far corners of the shelter.

There in the stillness of the wilderness, you can listen to the night sounds of the summer rain, creatures stalking the camp and voices of the river sliding slowly by.

You can keep your rooftop tent and fancy tin boxes. We’ll camp in the blue tarp any day.