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Columnist David Cook recreates the scene of the crime. Contributed photo by Mabry Cook

Last week I was walking through the backyard, looked up and noticed a stream of bees entering and exiting near the roofline of our log cabin, about 15 feet in the air. We'd had carpenter bees before, around the same spot, and I figured they'd returned.

And I knew we'd have to get rid of them.

"Around $260," the pest control man estimated.

To save money, I decided on a little do-it-yourself bee removal. One Google search later, and I'd found a rather beguiling idea.

"Vacuum up the bees," suggested HomeRemedyHacks.com.

Huh.

Vacuum?

"Easily," the website said.

Carpenter bees leave a telltale hole — like an O — in the wood. Just place the vacuum nozzle over the hole, and voila. What could go wrong? Carpenter bees may buzz by close, like Tom Cruise and the control tower in "Top Gun," but they won't sting. They act tough, but don't pose a serious threat. It'd be like playing the Vols.

Days earlier, in the front yard, I mowed across a yellow jacket nest; had you been watching safely from the neighbor's yard, you would have seen me go from casually mowing to jumping-swatting-cursing across the yard, as if instantly afflicted with a profound case of electric hemorrhoids.

Four stings on me; five if you count the dog's nose.

All afternoon, with revenge nesting in my heart, I plotted their yellow jacket death.

"Daddy, can't we relocate them?" my big-hearted daughter asked.

"Oh, yes, we'll relocate them," I said under my breath. "To hell."

After sundown, I tiptoed across the yard with my gas tank. Into the yellow jacket nest I poured — liberally, gleefully — like a Bourbon Street bartender.

"Suckers," I said.

A few days later, still cocky, I stood at the base of the log cabin, looking up at the carpenter bees. Vacuum cleaner in hand, I climbed to the 12th rung of a 14-rung ladder.

There is a simple joy that comes with home remedy. Had you been watching safely from a neighbor's yard, you would have seen the air of a proud and confident man, grinning, with $260 still in his wallet. Here in suburbia, these are our Lewis and Clark moments.

I put the nozzle up to the wood. The vacuum roared. I smiled, and gave a little wave to my wife, watching, less confidently, from the window.

Then everything changed.

The first carpenter bee slammed into the side of my head. Huh, I thought. They're not supposed to do that.

But yellow jackets do.

Remember those old Buster Keaton movies? Or Wile E. Coyote, just before he drops over the cliff? My arms and legs entered that comic space of scrambling, bumbling fear. The electric hemorrhoids were back. The vacuum crashed to the ground; I crashed after it, yellow jackets — this was their home nest, the mothership — emerging from their nest with fury, avenging their fallen, gasoline-soaked brethren from across the yard.

Oh, the pain.

Oh, the shame.

"I'll never let you forget this, Dad," my son said.

Nursing my wounds, I thought about what happened. I had mistaken yellow jackets for carpenter bees and paid dearly. So did the vacuum.

Soon my meditation turned from my stings to my heart.

I remembered the old Buddhist story of the monk and apprentice traveling the forest. They come to a stream. The monk sees a scorpion in the water, drowning. He picks up the scorpion, trying to save it, but the scorpion stings him and falls back in the water. The monk tries again, yet is stung. A third time, stung. Finally, after four stings, the scorpion allows itself to be picked up, then set on dry land.

"Master," the apprentice asked, "why did you keep picking up the scorpion? All it did was sting you."

"My son," the monk answered, "it is the scorpion's nature to sting. It is our nature to save."

There are so many things that sting us today, so many unseen nests and hives we stumble across. Politics. Religion. Guns. America seems so barbed. We open the papers, and another shooting. We turn on the television, and more outrage. We get stung — coworkers, family, strangers, our own fears — all the time.

When the stings come, how does our heart respond?

Can we act like the monk? When hurt or wounded, how do we find resilience and depth to respond with something more than revenge and resentment?

This is not the Benadryl talking. The way we respond to one another is the most pressing issue of our time. It is the nature of the yellow jacket to sting.

But is it ours?

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.

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