The Wasps of Howard Prairie Lake, Oregon
Southern Oregon is idyllic.
It’s also the site of one of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen in my entire life (note: on the grand scale of things, this isn’t saying much. My life is a cakewalk, minus the walk).
It happened last September, when Rand and I were visiting Ashland for our anniversary. We drove to the nearby Howard Prairie Lake to have a picnic on a hot and dusty day. There was no one else on the road. Now that it was the tail end of summer, the hills were were parched, the grass dried out from too many weeks of sunshine, and everyone was taking shelter inside until the scorching weather passed.
It was just us, on a quiet road, listening to music and enjoying each other’s company.
It sounds like I’m describing a trailer for a low-budget horror movie, right? It might as well have been. Close-up to an innocent couple laughing as they zip down a rural highway. Then voice over says something like, “They had planned the perfect vacation … but they weren’t alone.”
And then it cuts to some guy wielding a pick axe while wearing a Charlie Brown t-shirt and screaming a terrifying and ridiculous catchphrase like, “WHO WANTS RUMP ROAST?”
Or so I assume. I don’t actually watch horror movies unless my brother is in them. And even then …
There’s an eerie stillness about Prairie Lake that would make it the perfect setting for roughly one and a half hours of cinematic gore. Minutes stretch by and you won’t hear a sound. Not even the cry of a bird, or the rustling of leaves as a squirrel runs past. It’s the sort of quiet that’s just begging to be broken by the roar of a chainsaw and the screams of some busty blonde co-ed.
If some madman decides to start pruning off people’s limbs like they were errant twigs, this is the right place.
A large man-made peninsula extends out into the lake – far sturdier than any wooden pier, and the few other people you can encounter are often there, fishing and quietly talking amongst themselves. There’s a handful of picnic tables and benches, where you can sit and fish, or, in our case, hope to have a nice lunch.
Rand and I walked out to the with a bag full of hoighty toighty treats from the local co-op. We had prosciutto and salami and expensive cheese, and, consequently, not a care in the world.
We laid everything out, and enjoy approximately 30 seconds of bliss before the horror began. Before they arrived.
Okay, fine. Maybe I’m being a little melodramatic here. I realize that on the scale of horrifying things that could happen at an idyllic campsite, wasps don’t rank that highly. They’re worse than mosquitoes, but not nearly as bad as forgetting your sunscreen.
But believe me when I tell you that I am absolutely petrified of them. Yes, I fear them even more than moths.
I tried to play it cool, deftly moving away from the food that had taken one wasp’s interest. But soon it smelled my fear, and began to hover towards me in that creepy, erratic way of theirs, then suddenly lurched for my face. It was obviously aiming for my eyes, nose, and mouth. Don’t try to tell me otherwise. Don’t try to confuse me with “science” or “facts”.
Every moth that has ever existed wants to STING MY EYEBALLS AND THEN FLY DOWN MY THROAT AND STING MY INSIDES. This is an indisputable truth. Or, at least, it will be when I’m done editing Wikipedia.
Fortunately, I had Rand with me. Rand. Provider. Partner. Ruthless hunter.
Well, I mean, when it comes to wasps he is. Other than that, he’s a cuddle monster, and I’m totally cool with that.
I watched, both disgusted and slightly titillated as he took a rag and smacked one wasp into oblivion. And then another. And another.
But with every wasp he reduced to a smudge of yellow and black goop on the picnic table, another arrived to avenge it. There was no stopping them. He finally relented. We looked, defeated, as they encircled our food.
And then it happened.
I still can’t believe it.
One wasp began to hover near the corpse of its fallen comrade. It buzzed around it, as though in mourning. For a moment, I almost felt sad for its loss. We’d killed its friend, its colleague, possibly its lover, and now it was …
Wait, what the hell is it doing?
OH SWEET JESUS.
THE LIVE WASP PICKED UP THE DEAD ONE. IT PICKED IT UP IN ITS LITTLE WASPY LEGS AND …
No. NO. I still refuse to believe this happened. But it did. Oh, it did.
The live wasp took flight, while carrying the other’s corpse. It began its creepy glide through the air, made even more erratic with the extra weight of its brethren.
And then – oh sweet merciful heavens – then it began to fly. Straight. Towards. My. Face.
I’m sure you can logically conclude, as I did, what it intended to do. The live wasp was going to make me eat the dead one.
WHO WANTS RUMP ROAST?
I might have started running. I might have screamed. I don’t really remember. My memory refused to record it. The next thing I knew, we were back in the car, zipping away from the lake.
“Rand,” I said weakly, feeling around with my tongue if there was any trace of wasp in my mouth, “did that wasp just … just pick up the dead one and -”
“But I saw -”
“Nope, nope. You saw nothing. That did not happen,” he said firmly.
And neither of us has spoken about it – or Prairie Lake – since.
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