Born in the Panama Canal Zone 79 years ago, Mr. Zidbeck came to California in 1944 with his mother and three siblings. He enlisted in the US Army after graduating from high school. Honorably discharged in 1952, he attended college under the G.I. Bill. After graduating from UCLA in 1958, he worked as a probation officer in LA County. George's wife of 55 years died this past August. However, he plans to remain in San Luis Obispo County since retiring in 1985.
In addition to penning observations and reflections since living in San Luis Obispo County, George has authored six volumes of a family saga that addresses the negative influence of alcohol on a family from the perspective of the mother (two volumes); the father (three volumes); and the first born son. Anyone interested in contacting the author, may write George Zidbeck.
Rochester, George's Good Buddy
by George Zidbeck
When outdoors, picnicking or camping, did you ever lift a can of soda or sandwich ready to drink or bite and luckily spot a bee or yellow jacket poised right on the edge of the container? Or just happen to stray near a nesting site and hear a distinctive buzz? If not, count your blessings. I, on the other hand, know hosts of stinging insects up close and personal. However, one stands out in my mind more than the others: yellow jackets.
Check out dangerous stinging insects on your 'puter or encyclopedia and there find the Latin classification for yellow jackets: Vespidae. Even if sometimes referred to as ground hornets that name misapplies. Nor are they a species of bees. A honeybee's stinger has a barbed tip that remains in the victim and pulls out a pulsating organ that thereby terminates the life of the perpetrator. Conversely, wasps and hornets can sting repeatedly with each injection offering a toxic fluid.
True, the yellow jackets' yellow and dark bandings suggest a bee's coloring, but the leaner, meaner yellow jackets dwell in social colonies underground. Such subsurface sites seldom last more than a year unless the climate and food sources remain optimal year around. Moreover, when congregated in large numbers, they can swarm and attack in a manner similar to "killer bees." Additionally, while analogous to bees attracted solely to the pollen and nectar of flowers, yellow jackets feed on a mix of foodstuffs, including beer and carrion. It is written that their favorite color is yellow, but don't ask me how someone determined that mindset.
Well, enough of nomenclature and factoids; allow me to share a few firsthand experiences . . .
Forty years ago, I took special note of yellow jackets during a Utah deer hunting trip. After skinning a deer, I soon spotted a bevy of yellow jackets land on the flesh side and proceed to excise and roll the attached fatty tissue into small balls that were soon airlifted to home base. I then understood why such a winged insect also carried the name meat bees. Further, whilst afield and sweating, not only flies came in for a salty drink, yellow jackets did the same. I additionally tagged them with the moniker of sweat bees.
Years later, in my first San Luis Obispo springtime, I spotted hosts of yellowjackets flitting around the trunk of a white oak. A close inspection revealed thousands of small caterpillars newly freed from their egg capsules soon to be food fare for their attackers. (I want to state here that I have never been stung when I stand by to observe bees or wasps or hornets feeding and do not touch them purposefully.)
Over the ensuing years, I accidentally disturbed nesting areas when clearing brush with a power tool or hand rake/hoe/other utensil, and paid a price. For once disturbed, scouts check out the source and emit warning buzzes. Initially, I ignored such warning. Now, I make haste for other parts of my parcel -- not always achieving a timely egress. Once, a solitary pursuer continued his assault and somehow managed to sting my neck six times before I reached sanctuary.
Likely because our winters can introduce freezing temps, I seldom spot those pesky Vespidae during that season. Thus, early one January morning, my carrying a hot mug o' joe, I sauntered out with slippers and robe for a walkabout on my three acre squiredom. A beautiful, clear dawn sans breeze or frost. On such strolls, I oft approach euphoria. Do I not dwell in a comfy cottage amongst great oaks where I share the sod with a great mix of wildlife? Bliss I tell you; bliss!
But wait. I finish my coffee and saunter home. How might I have known that sixty-five yards from my front door, two happenstances coincided to deliver an unforgettable moment? First, for some totally unknown reason, one likely deranged, errant yellow jacket buzzed me and immediately lanced my neck. Fully alarmed, I not only make haste for home, I first remove my robe and flail it about my person to persuade any winged pursuer to back off.
Pell mell, adrenaline charged, I make the turn by the great gnarly oak not knowing that soon after I left the house with my coffee, a lady guest had awakened and went to the kitchen where she saw the made coffee and poured herself a serving. She then went to the large window overlooking the northern and eastern boundaries. You've likely already suspected that she noted some insane, naked idiot running up the road while churning a large blue cloth about his person. Naturally, without any encouragement on my part, that lady announced the above scene to my wife when she awakened and both made merry over my misadventure. And now you know as well.