Friday, July 24, 2015

The Stinging Reality of the Wilderness

It all began on the trail.

All six kids were excited. Shoes tied, walking sticks chosen, water bottles filled.

We were off.

It was a beautifully perfect morning. 75 degrees and enough cloud cover to prevent the sun from baking us to death as we walked. We took the trail east through the nearly dry creek bed, past the ripening blackberry brambles, and up the fern-covered hill. Hyrum was already complaining of sore legs after ten minutes, but we cajoled him onward.

"Remember where that really big tree is? We'll stop there, get a drink, and head back. The little girls can't go much farther than that, anyway." Reluctantly, he agreed.

In hindsight, I think we all wish we'd listened to Hyrum's warning legs.

The four boys reached the really big tree ahead of me and the girls. They were doing boy stuff--poking the tree with their walking sticks, encouraging the massive black ants to retaliate against the blows. The girls opened their water bottles and sipped and giggled and danced about on the hillside as only five-year-old girls can get away with. I sat on a nearby log to get a drink and enjoy the view. It is so green in northern Arizona this year, and I was happy.

It was time to head back. Micah's chronically untied shoe had snagged a stick, and my mother instincts kicked in.

"Micah, tie your shoe and we'll head back."

With his walking stick still in his hand, Micah sat on the other end of my log so he could tie his shoe. Almost simultaneously, Micah snorted "OW!" while I felt a sharp sting on my backside. I looked up, and the air was filled with . . .

. . . yellow jackets. It was like any bee scene from a movie.

"RUN!!" I shouted, as I tried to herd the two little girls away from the disturbed hive in the log.

The four boys ran. As they ran, I could hear Micah's pained and repeated shouts of "OWWWW!" echo from the bottom of the hill. The little girls, disoriented by our sudden departure and not completely understanding the impending danger, tried to move quickly, but the steepness of the hillside and their short legs slowed their escape. Micah's friend John had told me a few days previously (when a bee landed in our pool as they were all swimming) that he is allergic to bee stings, and this bit of information lodged in my mind like a haunting nightmare. Was John going to go into anaphylactic shock as they slipped and sped down the mountain ahead of me and the girls? I yelled at the boys to stop, but nothing was going to slow them down. I couldn't leave the girls, but what if . . .

The boys reached the safety of the cabin five minutes before I got there with the girls, and although there weren't any tears, those almost big boys were shaken and hurting.  I interrogated John carefully, asking him if he had ever carried an epi-pen, but he looked at me like I was speaking Russian. When I asked him to explain his bee sting allergy, he showed me his inner arm where a red dot was surrounded by slightly swollen skin. "When I get stung, they just swell up a little bit." Whew. Now that I knew anaphylactic shock and 90-mph rushes to the nearest emergency room wouldn't be part of our morning adventure, I placated the kids with ice and ran to the tiny grocery store for Tylenol and oral and topical Benadryl. When I got back ten minutes later, I carefully inventoried and dosed the wounded.

The little girls and one of the boys had miraculously avoided any stings at all. John had been stung four times--once on his arm and three times on his body. He discovered a dead yellow jacket inside his shirt a little while later. It must be recorded that he squished it and squished it and squished it before he removed it to make sure it was completely dead.

Hyrum was holding back the tears. "Where are you stung, Buddy?" He turned and showed me his ear.

Not that one. This one.
Everyone agreed that he had received the worst single sting of anyone. Fifteen minutes later, he pulled the still-lodged stinger out of the wound.

Micah was bravely whimpering and holding ice to multiple wound sites. We tried to reconstruct the scene, and after everyone's input, we think Micah had sat on the nest end of the log, infuriating the yellow jackets. He had more stings than we could count. At least twelve on this arm alone.
Two on his leg. Three or four on his torso, and at least four in his hair. Poor guy. In retrospect, I can't believe how brave he was.

As for me?

I did not fare as well as the little girls I had escorted down the mountain.

The initial alerting sting on my bum hurt, but that was not my only wound. Somehow, one of those stinkin' stingin' buggers got up and I didn't have the time to find it and annihilate it. The girls were my priority, and as we made our way to safety, I kept feeling new pricks and burns. Three on my upper thigh, and one extremely painful and intrusive sting on my upper UPPER thigh, ifyaknowhatImean. When that final injury was inflicted, I didn't care HOW close those ^$%# bees' hive was. I stopped long enough to find the perpetrator and end its life then and there on the road back to the cabin.

Our afternoon in the woods did not proceed as we had planned it days earlier. The kids were a little afraid of the great outdoors by this time, and I thought it wise to allow a movie in the comfort of our yellow jacket-free loft. I made a comforting batch of chocolate chip cookies to follow our grilled cheese sandwiches, and the big boys, relaxed and groggy from the highest prescribed Benadryl dose, fell asleep on opposing couches. Before we left, I reminded them what Grandpa Tucker always says you should do if you get bucked off a horse. And with that, I forced them back into the wild, risking life and limb in the face of danger.

It only took a few minutes for their fears to dissipate, and all was well by the time we headed home later that afternoon.


That was my day. First bee sting in my whole 45 years of life. And it was a doozy. Accompanied by four or five of its friends, for good measure.

How was yours?


  1. WOW 😲 what an experience! So sorry! Hope you're all recovered soon.

  2. Lost my last reply, hoping this isn't a repeat. This read like a book and had me on the edge of my seat. I'm so glad everyone is okay. Just wanted to let you know that for those that are allergic, allergic reactions tend to get worse each time so although it was not an anaphaltic episode this time, it could be the next time. With as much as your son's ear swelled I wondered if he might have a bit of an allergy, too.

  3. Agree with getting back on the horse after getting bucked off but, I'm not so sure about getting back on the yellow jacket log. I'm too big a wuss.
    GP Tucker.

  4. Oh my goodness!! This is so horrible!!! I'm so sorry you all had such a horrific experience. My son and his friend disturbed a bees' nest when they were little boys and his friend got the brunt of it with numerous stings. It was terrible and, like you said, there's always that fear that they're going to be allergic. We had a woman that lived up the street from us die after being stung by a bee and no one was home with her when it happened. They found her in her yard. I remember hearing that if there's going to be an allergy it doesn't happen until the second bee sting. Not sure how true that is but it always stuck in my memory. I hope you're all feeling better!!

    ~ Wendy

  5. ouch! That's really frightening. Glad you are all alright!

  6. Thank goodness no one had a severed reaction!

  7. Owww! I was unfortunate enough to encounter a next of Yellow Jackets once as a child. Very unpleasant to say the least.