Friday, November 04, 2005


Yesterday was Culture Day, a national holiday, when everyone presumably does cultural things, but we made our monthly trip to our secret spring high up in the mountain forest to get some of that really good water where it comes pouring out of a cliffside.

On our way up there along the road that curves through the cedar forest, while slowly edging by two pickup trucks parked halfway out in the road I spotted three men up the steep slope in the forest to one side of the road, not lumbering or anything, couldn’t tell what they were doing.

We got to the spring, and had filled all our jugs and bottles and watered the plants we’d bought at a farmer’s roadside stand on the way there, then headed back. Passing the two trucks again, I saw that two of the three men had come down to the road; the third, halfway down the slope, was dressed in what looked like some kind of space suit and was carrying a well-laden bag.

We stopped to look. The two men on the road were grinning from ear to ear, each holding a two-armful load of large slabs of dull brown comb, speckled with white bumps. The spacesuited one was dressed, I could see now, to ward off stings. They had just raided a nest of Osuzumebachi (suzume: sparrow; hachi: bee, wasp, hornet). Osuzumebachi (Vespa mandarinia), very fierce-looking hornets that are quite aggressive in the fall when stocking their underground nests. They get their 'sparrow' name from their size, which can reach up to two inches long. They also have very long stingers. I got stung in the foot by one of them a few years ago, in slow motion, as I recall, and it put me in the hospital--but that's another story.

Osuzumebachi larvae are a highly prized delicacy and reputedly magic tonic, so are very valuable, given the risk one undertakes in harvesting them. One of the tree-tending fellows had probably noted the nest site during his labors and waited till the larvae would be just right (they were the white bumps on the comb) - about the size of small shrimp - and came up to harvest them.

Another trick hornet hunters use to find Osuzumebachi nests is to bait a stick with the hornet’s preferred insect prey, then while the hornet is busy eating they tie a long strip of white cloth around its thorax and follow its flight (often a very long way) back to the nest.

The surviving hornet hunters then take out all the larvae and soak them in sake and do other secret tonic things with them I haven’t been able to find out yet.

Related article added later:
Killer wasps threaten farmers in Shaanxi


Jenn said...

"The surviving hornet hunters... "

Pure grins!

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh... the forest, forest people and forest activity. Always an interesting adventure of the magically curious kind.