One hazard of working harvest that I had not expected was swarms of yellow jackets high on grape juice.
All of the processing equipment at Starmont is located outside, and as we crush grapes the juice and grape skins attract hordes of yellow jackets. As we crush the first few bins a few of the wasps start buzzing around us, but by the end of the afternoon there can be what seems like 50 to 60 yellow jackets flying around a single bin of grapes. Yellow jackets aren’t that aggressive so they’re more of a nuisance than a safety threat. You just have to watch where you stick your hands because the sheer number of them means they’re almost everywhere. I’ve been stung once and it was because I rested my arm on the railing of the conveyor and didn’t notice a yellow jacket wriggling there in the sticky residue of grape juice. The sting resulted in a some impressive swelling on my forearm and it was itchy for a few days, but that was it. The funny thing about it was that earlier in the day I had remarked about the yellow jackets to a fellow intern and had asked if he’d ever been stung.
The swarms do add another layer of the sometimes surreal work of harvest. As you work on the processing line your clothes and skin get covered with juice and grape skins and so the yellow jackets will actually follow you as you walk away from the crusher. I’ve had so many yellow jackets buzzing around me that some have actually flown into my eyes and I could feel their wings buzzing against the wet flesh of my eyeball.