I witnessed a miracle today.
Wasps are, well, insects. I have been taught that insects are great at specialization--different species fill different niches. Evolution somehow explains how these specialized behaviors developed, but the behaviors are automatic, reflexive. No thought is involved.
We have a couple of wrought iron fish hanging on fence posts guarding the honeysuckle. Each fish has a candle in it. The flickering candlelight on hot summer nights fills some religious void as we chat about stock indices and presidents gone bad over late evening merlot. We chatter like cicadas, loud and senseless, just to let others know we exist.
Last summer, while lighting the candle in one of the fish, I swatted away a few moths that fluttered about my face. The next morning I saw the singed wasp nest above the candle; I had been swatting at wasps, who perhaps realized the futility of stinging a drunken man who imagined he had been troubled by moths.
Today, I spent a good bit of a warm Easter afternoon watching a wasp make the third cell of her nest, creating paper walls from her mouth. I mentioned it to my wife; she reminded me of the wasp problems the summer before, so I decided to knock the nest out now, before the fish held a colony of wasps. I felt ridiculous caring about the work the wasp had already done.
When the wasp had gone to gather more water, I took the fish down off the fence post, and knocked off the new nest, as well as the larger nest left from last summer. I set the fish upside down on our patio table, a good 10 feet from where it had hung, and forgot about it. The little sadness I had felt for the wasp dissipated with a shake of my head, reprimanding myself for my silly sentimentality.
I spent the rest of the afternoon wrestling with a grape vine--I want it to go one way, it insists on following the sun. As I walked past the patio table, I noticed the lone wasp walking back and forth on the overturned fish. It looked frantic. It rapidly walked one way, then the other. It clearly was looking for the nest I had knocked off.
I called my wife--the wasp had clearly identified the fish as the home of its nest. My wife is rational, and a good empiricist--she keeps me sane. She could not understand why I got so agitated.
"Maybe it can smell the nest." The nest lay a good 15 feet away. I have a habit of saving wasp nests, shells, acorns, anything of interest not made by humans. "How do you know it's the same wasp?" she wondered.
I brought the tiny nest back to the iron fish. I laid it next to the wasp. A breeze blew the nest away. A moment later, the wasp left.
I was shaken to my core. The wasp clearly recognized the fish, upside down on the table, more than 10 feet away from its original site. She clearly exhibited an increase in movements. At the risk of anthropomorphizing, the wasp was clearly distressed.
There is more to this world than I can ever hope to understand.