All text material is copyright on the date published by Tom King. Graphics and photos are public domain unless otherwise noted.
Saturday, August 09, 2008
A Night on Bald-Faced Mountain
So I'm out chopping wood with Dale Martin who had been condemned to chop up some dead fall trees with me. I say condemned because it was 102 degrees in the shade and we were cutting up logs in the sun with axes (we weren't allowed to have chain saws - something about safety).
Instead we were swinging big double-bladed axes. I finally got to where I couldn't see anything for the sweat pouring down into my eyes and I decided to move over and work on a big deadfall tree that was lying in a convenient patch of shade. I spit on my hands and hoisted the ax with every intent of cutting this one in half in under ten strokes.
I was getting pretty good at wood chopping. There was a 75 year old man who used to wander over from his property next door and jaw with the staff. He used to laugh at out ax work, till one day we challenged him that "If you can do better..."
This old geezer picked up that heavy double bladed monster and proceeded to take down the tree we'd been sweating over for 45 minutes in probably 3 strokes, maybe 4. Whole tree just laid down at his feet like it had surrendered. He liked me, so he showed me some lumberjackin' techniques and I got pretty good at it.
My first swing bit deeply into the dried oak - so deeply I had to jerk it around pretty hard to get it out. On the second mighty thwack, I heard a new noise like an angry weed whacker. I looked down between my feet and saw I had kicked the leaves off a half dollar sized hole in the ground. Extracting the ax, I looked closer. Little yellow and black things began popping out of the hole.
Bald-faced hornets. I knew them right away because they liked to buzz the swimmers down at the swimming dock. I'd always just batted them away, but they seemed unhappy and I decided that would not likely be the best course of action. Then I remembered the advice my mother once gave me.
"Stand real still and don't act afraid and they won't sting you."
Okay, you trust your mama when you're young. "Ouch"
That was probably one that got started before I "Ouch" froze.
I mean, my mom grew up on a farm "Yow".
Okay, maybe if I "Oweeee" hold my breath.
I saw Dale standing across the clearing looking over at me in wide-eyed astonishment. Then, he abruptly broke and ran. He said later that it looked like one of those cartoons where the black cloud of bees swarms all over Elmer Fudd or something.
By now I had begun to suspect that mom was not a competent entomologist - so far as the subject of bald-faced hornets went anyway. "Ouch" Apparently, I deduced, putting my great brain to use for something besides a pincushion, that if you stand perfectly still astride a nest of angry bald-faced hornets you only succeed in giving them an easier target to hit. "Yikes!"
Exit stage left. Dale said it looked like the part in the cartoon where the cloud of bees string out in pursuit of the aforementioned Mr. Fudd. I led them a merry chase through the briars and the brambles for more than a quarter mile to the swimming dock. Folks in the swimming area looked up startled to see a crazed lumberjack still carrying a double-bladed ax in one hand, burst out of the woods, throw down the ax and run shrieking like a girl down the dock pursued by a mysterious black cloud. The lumberjack flung himself off the end of the dock into deep water and disappeared in a great big splash. The cloud circled for more than a minute before dissipating.
When I ran out of air, I surfaced underneath the wooden dock (if you can call it surfacing when you have to purse your lips and suck air from the 2 inches of air pocket under the dock. Waves from the passing ski boat made remaining under the dock problematic, so I eventually surfaced, some 30 feet from where I had gone in. One of the lifeguards was diligently fishing around for my body with a shepherd's crook and they had the kids out for a buddy check.
"I'm okay," I croaked as I crawled out onto the dock to take stock of my injuries - nine bald-faced hornet stings in all ranging from my head to my toes. They sent me to the nurse.
The nurse that year was a former nursing home attendant who put bandages on us. The real nurse worked days and wouldn't be back at camp till after 3:00. In the meantime, Mrs. C, the amateur nurse, decided I was the perfect guinea pig for some medical experiments.
She tried every home remedy and quack cure for bee stings you can imagine on me except for one. I absolutely refused to pee on my foot. She would later tell me that if I had only tried the "peeing thing", I might not have had my later troubles. Other than that, she tried everything else that any quack, old wife or patent medicine salesman had ever recommended. We tried hot and cold fomentations which she got confused after a while and I wound up with half of the fomentations being hot and the other half ice cold. I felt like South America. She put tubes of vile potions on me and dabbed me with foul ointments made from fish innards and bull thistle.
She even tried chewing tobacco (I have no idea where she got that - probably from one of the 10-12 year old campers that were there that week). She tried to get me to chew it for her. Not sure who finally volunteered and I really don't want to know. She even poured bleach on one of the stings.
After an hour of her ministrations, I was pronounced healed and she sent me to lifesaving class with Sam Miller. This was the perfect thing to do after injecting small doses of poison under my skin using a cloud of bald-faced hornets as hypodermics. Sam's idea of a warmup for class consisted of swimming 10 laps with a concrete block on your chest. I did a very fine job of circulating the poison throughout my bloodstream.
Around 4:30 I began to have mild stomach cramps. I ate supper and went back to the bunkhouse where my buddy Mark found me curled in a fetal position screaming "Please dear God, take me to heaven now!" They carried me back to "the nurse".
She gave me some pain medication - Darvon I think - it was all the rage back then. Didn't make a dent!
Finally, she came over and put a hand on my shoulder and asked softly, "Have you had a BM today?"
I explained with what I though was remarkable tact and which she thought was babbling from the depths of delirium that I had indeed had myself a good poop that morning and THAT WEREN'T THE PROBLEM. She ignored my answer as coming from someone who was clearly out of his mind. After all, I had received the latest in insect sting therapy earlier, so the hornet poison could not possibly be the problem she reasoned.
She decided to confer with our maintenance guy, a 60 year old returned missionary from India! Together, they decided that a cup and a half of Milk of Magnesia would just about do the trick and had poured it up for me when the real nurse (the missionary's wife) showed up and saved me from spending the next three years on the toilet.
"She asked me what had happened. I explained about the hornets. She counted the nine stings and pulled out a hypodermic syringe. A stiff dose of Benadryl in the arm and I was able to unfold in about 10 minutes. I kissed her feet and casting an evil eye in the direction of "the nurse" and "the missionary" staggered down to the boat dock where the moon was already shining, the young people were singing softly as the guitars and banjos softly played. Couples were lip-locked in the shadows.
Even a near death experience wasn't going to keep me from the moonlight.
That awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoe-making and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse. -Mark Twain