“Here, hold this.”
My father handed me the hose, the one with the cheap galvanized sprayer that quickly went from a cone shaped mist to a hard, pulsating stream. While I waited, he attached a coffee can to a broom handle with duct tape, filled the can half way with gasoline, and raised it to a paper wasp nest nestled beneath the eaves of the back porch. The nest quickly wicked up the fuel and the wasps frantically circled their fouled home.
He was usually a smart person, but now he was out of character, missing something, like a spider without a web.
He disassembled his contraption and swapped the coffee can for a flap of newspaper. He lit the paper on fire, held it toward the nest. With a unforgiving poof, the nest popped into flame.
“Okay, gimme that back.”
I handed him the hose as it hissed and leaked slightly from the built up pressure. He waited as the fire began to char the exposed wood of the porch. Wasps continued to head towards the nest, hoping for reclamation. Burning larvae and adults poured to the grass as the bottom burned out and collapsed. The ground caught fire. Still, he didn’t spray the water. Only when a few sparks cracked from the burning wood did he release any relief for the porch. Soon the nest was a dripping piece of its former self, a soaked sock hanging to dry on a laundry line.
When We Worked
When we worked five acres, we used metal sticks to hang our meat in the smokehouse. We kept the flames low for days, the fire box dug into the earth, a trench rising to meet the building, delivering soft smoke upon the flesh of the two pigs we raised from suckling. When we worked thirteen acres, friends came to tend the tops of our apple trees, removing the undesirable branches, leaving neither stub nor shoulder at the cut as those both brought decay. The crop was better because of it. When we worked seventeen acres, the irrigation lines cracked during the freeze. We didn’t bury them deep enough below the frost line. We lost weeks to the repairs. When we worked twenty acres, the forest became our pasture, mushroom logs stacked and fruiting beneath the full canopy. When we worked one acre, the weeds got us, shaded out our carrots and turnips, ate the nutrition we so carefully spread. You were sick that year, occupied by the cancer as it took your voice and most of your stomach. When I worked one half acre, my harrow sliced mulch into the slick clay. Nothing took; there was no time left, when I worked.
Trace Ramsey is a recipient of the 2017-2018 North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship Award in Prose, the 2017 Profane Journal Nonfiction Prize, the 2016 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize from the North Carolina Literary Review, and the 2015 Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artists Award in Literature. Trace lives in Durham, NC with his partner and two children.