A few summers ago - before digital cameras and blogs - we stood by this tree on the edge of the woods, watching hornets too-and-fro from a hidden nest within this tree. It is hollow in its bottom, but still very much alive at the top. There were big 'bouncer' hornets sat at the entrances (those small holes just halfway up the trunk). They sat on the dry, sun warmed wood, watching everyone who went in and out. They were not at all bothered by us, as we quietly observed them. As a colony dies off after one season, we never saw them nesting there again. But yesterday we spotted mysterious lumps in the darkness of the wood cavern.
A few remains of the old nest had fallen down. Light in weight, it is deceptively fragile looking. But if you press the palm of your hand flat against the cells, you can feel the strength of the structure. Made from the chewed wood of the tree, it is a quite beautiful construction. Hornets do not make honey - the comb is a hatching place for the pupa, started off by the young Queen as she emerges from hibernation and begins to build her Kingdom. These first offspring will hatch as workers, and will take over such menial tasks, while Queenie devotes the rest of her time to laying thousands more eggs.
In a normal wasps nest - such as are found hanging from trees and (unfortunately) sometimes in attics, the Queen and her workers build around the comb, sealing the cells off with a paper wall. This traps layers of air, keeping the precious hatchlings at the desired moderate temperature; the same principles that quilt makers world wide utilise. But our hornets, building inside a well protected hollow trunk, would have simply built the comb within the space.
We took one piece home to put with our other treasures and nestled it by the fossil sea urchin, found on another walk.
Together, they represent the four elements, transmogrified. The urchin, once swimming in Water, now turned to stone and of the Earth. The empty nest, made by creatures of the Air, who's short lives are lived out in the sun - or Fire - of summer. Natural alchemy.