When life gets too hectic — and 2020 has been mostly just that — I like to head out into the woods for some solitary time. Recently while doing that, I had the bonus of adding several new critters to my knowledge base.

The first one I saw was a bit of a surprise. As I hiked a wooded path through an old live oak forest of heavy-bodied trees festooned with Spanish moss, it draped like a curtain before me. Cautiously to avoid chiggers, I used my hiking pole to clear an opening I could step into. As I delicately moved through the swaying epiphyte curtain, I emerged onto a white sandy beach.

Delighted by the sudden change in the ecotone around me, I marveled how this section of forest almost immediately turned into a scrub community at lakeside. Poking about the snowy sands for rare plants, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Something was tossing dirt. Moving closer, I grabbed my camera and zoomed in. What was I seeing?

The large black and red wasp was zipping out of sight, darting deep into a burrow. As it emerged, it listed back and forth in a drunken fashion. I quickly saw why. With a “handful” of soil, it was weighted enormously and struggled to gain altitude. Flying in this manner about six inches from its lair, the dirt suddenly exploded and zoom- the wasp disappeared.

Dipping my head, I looked around to see where it went. Suddenly there it was again. The large wasp was again carrying a mass of soil away from its den. As soon as it got a short distance away, it tossed the dirt down, turned on a dime and zipped back into the earth.

Over and over the wasp tirelessly and methodically excavated its burrow by carrying dirt out and away. Scattered about the surrounding area were minuscule piles of dark soil unearthed from below. How deep did the burrow go? I watched for a bit, took a few photos, and then got moving again.

Later as I exited the trail, I looked back at a site marker and saw another large, solitary wasp. Different from the first, this one was enormous and made me smile because it appeared to be lounging on top of the wooden post. Lying down, almost like a dog, it seemed to be cleaning its shiny, black wings and long, spindly legs. Was it napping? I took a few photos for later identification and headed back to my vehicle.

Getting lost in the woods is a great way to find some peace. As stress relievers go, it is pretty fantastic, and I almost always have the excitement of learning a few new species. With so many unknowns in life, exploring outdoors is a positive way to embrace uncertainty. I find that reminding myself how nature is still out there doing its thing makes any situation easier to navigate. All we must do is get out there and have a look around.