Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cheap Thrills

Part of frugality is learning to adapt to the opportunities and the resources all around you. There are various advantages and disadvantages available to rural, suburban, and urban dwellers, and to people of every age range. As someone living on the rural/suburban fringe, nature, or something quite like it, is one of the resources available to me. I can forage for wild greens and berries, and many friends and neighbors have sufficient space for fruit trees from which they may or may not harvest. There's enough wild game in my area that we could substantially supplement our diet with venison and rabbit if we chose to hunt.

But nature offers more than just the chance to feed myself cheaply. The natural world is an ongoing education too. We don't have children, but boy could we come up with some homeschooling lessons if we did. This lovely piece of insect architecture materialized on a branch directly over our driveway this summer. That's a bald-faced hornet's nest.

Bald-faced hornets are actually misnamed. They're really a species of North American wasp with a range that covers most of the US and parts of Canada. The salient facts to me though are that these creatures are aggressive defenders of their nests, and they can sting repeatedly (often on the face) without losing their stinger. It sure made us nervous for about five minutes. Then we reminded ourselves that the bald-faced hornets were busy - very busy, in fact - minding their own business, and so long as we did the same, our paths would never cross. We left them to it.

Then in mid-October, we had a large vehicle pull into our driveway. With alarm I watched it plow right into the branch holding that nest. I waited to see whether an angry swarm of hornets would emerge to unleash hot vengeance on anyone nearby. Fortunately, mercifully, the hive had departed. We picked up the fallen nest and brought it to the porch.

Eventually, after admiring the whole nest for several weeks, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to cut it open and have a look inside. All my attempts to photograph it have been stymied by the infinite gradations of gray that are present in the fabric of the nest. Here's the best photo I was able to take.

This sort of construction just amazes me. I studied the layers and details of this hornet's nest for about an hour after I cut it open. I still occasionally look over it in amazement. I feel really lucky to have this sort of entertainment and education available to me at absolutely no cost. True, I don't know the scientific names of the materials and different parts, or exactly how the hornets formed their home. I could learn those things from a book, no doubt. But I now have some things that are better than book learning. I have a profound sense of wonder, the ability to actually handle this object, and direct contact with this impressive feat of construction by one of the "lower orders" of the animal kingdom.

Oftentimes I find that frugality is not about making more money or even saving more money. It's not about paying off debt, making the smartest investments, or finding the best deal on something I want to buy. It's about rediscovering the value of stuff that is already available to me, in many cases for free. In those moments when I immerse myself in the richness all around me, money becomes irrelevant. And those are moments worth cultivating.


Anonymous said...

Amen. These are incredible, fascinating photos. It's hard to tell the size of the nest, though.

Tim Hodgens said...

"In those moments when I immerse myself in the richness all around me, money becomes irrelevant"

Well said. As they say, money can't buy that, in fact it probably tarnishes more than it can buy.


Emmy said...

Beautifully said. Our family is always looking for the upside of being "poor" - in fact, we spent Black Friday morning just watching shoppers in amazement. How much pleasure can you get from watching an anthill, growing tomatoes, or walking a grocery store with nary a dime to your name. I was brought up in a home where love was bought...I'm deeply envious of my son and the upbringing. Good on you, taking the time to be educated by God and all His creatures. :)

Kate said...

Jeri, that's a fair point. I would say the widest part of the nest is about 11 inches in diameter. It's roughly the size of a soccer ball.