It was already hot and sticky at six o’clock in the morning. The thermometer on the front porch read eighty-two degrees and the weather forecast was for ninety degrees plus and still no rain in sight. Lights had come on in all of the houses on the family farm by four or five o’clock in the morning and everyone had made their way to the next patch of okra to be picked. Every family member could not help but notice the large, black bird perched on the fence beside the path to the field due to the fact that if the bird was not greeted by each family member, a loud shriek would erupt from its throat—no one knew if the shriek was a greeting or warning—no one except Raven that is—but they had become accustomed to it’s morning ritual of observing the harvest. Raven Cane was the sole family member that actually stopped and talked with the bird as if it was another human being. On most mornings, Raven would insult the bird or ask questions of it.
This morning, Raven’s question was “Hey, Goanther, old gal, where is your partner in crime?” but the bird offered no answer. Instead, it turned away from Raven in silence. Haven’t seen him all morning Goanther thought to herself. She knew that meant her twin brother, Hipmoflux, was probably off doing what he usually does—causing trouble somewhere. She could not see how to ravens, hatched only minutes apart, could be so different.
“Hey, bird, I’m talking to you!”
Goanther turned to face him, making direct eye contact, and spread her wings to their full spread of forty-eight inches causing her dark black plumage to give off a metallic shine of purple to violet while reflecting the rays of the hot, rising sun.
“Okay, have it your way,” said Raven as he continued his trek to the okra patch. Goanther knew why she was there and she suspected Raven did too. She was there to see if she could figure out why Raven had such a strong dislike for stinging insects of any kind; hornets, bees, wasps—it did not matter, it appeared he hated all of them. She told herself that Raven would not ever admit it to himself, but his attitude toward the little winged creatures had developed over a period of many years and was a result of his own stupid actions. She had been watching Raven pick okra on the family farm since he was eight years old and knew that Raven loved to take advantage of the bees and wasps love of flower nectar. Okra has big beautiful flowers two to three inches across with five white or yellowish petals that have a lovely Roll Tide crimson color at the center and it’s nectar is a favorite with the bees and wasps.
While picking okra with his brother, mother and father during the growing season, Raven would harass the bees and wasps—he would torment them. If he found an insect in a blossom, he would slap the blossom shut using both hands trying to squash the insect gathering the nectar. The majority of time his intended victim would escape extremely pissed off and looking for revenge. More often than not, revenge would be taken on Raven’s Mom, brother, Dad or possibly one of the other kinfolk in the field. Even though Raven had had his ass whipped a few times by his Dad, he always thought it was hilarious to watch the victim run and fight off the attacker and eventually get stung anyway. His joy was lessened with each sting he received himself but all in all, Raven had a lot of fun pestering the insects.
To emphasize the extremes that Raven went just to harass the insects, visualize his determined search for tools to improve the effectiveness of his insect intimidation. Dedicating an early Saturday morning to the task, Raven methodically searched every shelf and greasy work bench in the barn. Finding nothing suitable there, hopefully and confidently he walked to the shed that housed the 1949 Farmall tractor that had new “Farmall Red” paint applied every year. What he found there he exclaimed was “A gift from Heaven,” as he picked up the claw tool grabber. Intended for retrieving small objects that have fallen into otherwise inaccessible places, Raven pushed the red, spring-loaded plunger on the end of the tool and watched as the steel claws of death expanded from the other end of the flexible shaft. Releasing the plunger suddenly, he was pleased to hear the claws slam together with the sound of a cell door behind a prisoner.
Raven never would let an opportunity for fun pass him by and his impulsive nature led him into the unknown without a care as to how his actions may influence his immediate future. His encounter with the hornets’ nest is a perfect example.
One evening, Raven and his friend Jeff were on their way home after cleaning the horse stalls at Saddlewood. Jeff spotted a hornet’s nest about the size of two basketballs up in an oak tree and pointed it out to Raven. When they arrived at Jeff’s house—it was the first on the trail they used coming and going to the horse farm—Jeff told his mom about the hornets nest and she said, “If you boys will wait till fall, I would like to have it. I want to spray it with lacquer and make a decoration with it. I’ll give the two of you twenty dollars to get it for me.” The boys’ eyes lit up.
That night, completely ignoring the part about waiting till fall, Raven put together a plan to collect that twenty dollars right now. He searched his closet—crammed with sports equipment and electronic projects—and found his baseball bat which he placed next to his bedroom door so he would remember to pick it up on his way out to school in the morning. The next day, with baseball bat in hand, Raven informed Jeff that they would be harvesting the nest today when they returned from mucking the stalls.
Mucking is the term used for cleaning horse stalls. It’s a nasty job that horse owners prefer to farm out to healthy and flat broke teenage boys. Raven and Jeff were healthy and flat broke teenage boys that worked well together as best friends. Their horse stall cleaning routine insured that neither of them had a disproportionate share of the aroma. They would swap days; one would don rubber boots and gloves and use a pitchfork and shavings fork to toss the soiled horse bedding into a wheelbarrow while the other ran back and forth to the manure pile dumping the wheelbarrow. After all the aroma enriched bedding had been removed, they worked together to add bales of fresh straw and fluff it up with pitchforks.
It’s unfortunate that Raven only hears the parts of stories he wants to hear. Jeff’s mom knew that hornets abandoned their hives in the fall and the hive, or nest, would be easy pickings at that time of yea—but Raven discounted that detail. Hornets are large, black and white, heavy wasps up to an inch long. They can easily fly fifteen miles per hour, and, just like with humans, fear and vengeance improves performance. Their bad reputation is well justified. If you have had anyone tell you they got stung by a hornet just for looking at it sideways, they were probably telling you the truth. But Raven and Jeff had a comprehensive, well laid out plan—Raven would swat the hive with the baseball bat and run in one direction and Jeff another.
Raven stands tall and swats the hornets nest. What happens next is a scene right out of the movies. Just as funny as the scene in the John Wayne movie, “Rio Lobo,” when the hornets nest was thrown in the boxcar, Raven takes off in one direction and Jeff in another direction toward his home. This comprehensive plan resulted in both of them suffering the full fury of thousands of angry hornets. Thankfully they were out of sight of each other and did not have to witness the torture of the other. The first sting nailed Raven in the right shoulder. The pain was pretty much like smashing a finger with a door and one hornet can slam the door multiple times. Soon the pain was from head to toe. The impact and pain slammed him to the ground. Screaming, swatting and swelling all over, he recalled his dad’s previous warnings, “Those things will kill you if you don’t leave ‘em alone, dumb ass.” Raven stood and ran home with hundreds of hornets in his clothing and hundreds more waiting their turn. Raven’s mom filled the tub with ice and prepared a paste of ground tobacco and salt. Her admonishment was “Even a small mouse has anger.”