The Black Fly


June 2019

Lisa spent the first part of her life in Maine.  I asked her how she handled the black flies when she was a kid.  She scoffed.

“My friends and I compared, we held contests.  Who could not scratch for the longest time, who could get the most bites, who could hold out the longest without complaining.  It was all good fun.”

We are relaxing in a Freeport, Maine brew pub, enjoying quaffs of Gritty McDuff’s Black Fly Stout.  Well…

The black fly.  Some folks describe black flies as “annoying.”  Some go as far as to say, “very annoying.”  Sorry but that ain’t the half of it.

When we contemplated a trip up to this area, I asked my New England friend Marc about the black flies.  “It sort of depends on your tolerance whether you want to come here.  Some locals don’t go outside their houses at all.  They’re pretty bad.”

I wanted more.  “Pretty bad” or “really bad?”

“Really bad,” he said.

“How bad is really bad?”

Marc said, “Let me put it this way.  When we go biking, inevitably, someone is going to get a flat tire.  While the biker changes his tire, every other rider within the area crowds around in a circle, madly waving their arms in the air, shooing away the black flies from the biker so that he can focus on his task.  If we didn’t do that, the bugs would be so maddening he would never be able to stay still long enough to change the tire.  They are very, <very> bad.”

Marc also said, “Black flies can occur in such vast numbers that livestock have died of shock or blood loss from their bites.”

Yep, that’s very bad.

So here we are, sitting in Gritty McDuff’s quaffing Black Fly Stout.  The black fly is the hero the brewers picked to give their beer its name.  Well, drink up, as we were swarmed with black flies on every damned hike on this trip.

Is there anything that can be done to make life a wee bit more comfortable while sharing oxygen with these pissants?  Some humans resort to using chemical repellants.  We new agers, of course, choose a natural insect repellant, something with lemon or citronella.  Marketed under various names from various companies, basically this shit is embarrassingly ineffective.  They call it bug spray — I think that’s because the bugs like it so much.

With all the expensive preparations available in specialty outdoors and camping stores, we pick this one major brand spray right off the shelf in the local pharmacy.  Works fairly well.  Keeps the bugs away for up to four minutes.

But enough about how miserable these little dipsticks can make life.  I mean, just because they get in your ears, nose, throat and eyes and up your shorts, and just because they don’t actually just bite but rather, they sink in with their teeth and rip your flesh, and just because they inject a venom which can cause maddening itching, and just because my companion one time had an allergic reaction to their bite that swelled her eye closed…

In 2002, I climbed to the summit of Mount Ascutney in Vermont.  It is the height of black fly season so before getting out of my car, I affixed a bug net around my head and neck and tucked it in under my collar.  Ever see one of these?  Imagine what a beekeeper looks like.  There you are.

Stepping out of my car, I notice a small group of people looking in my direction, one of them stifling a laugh.  I’m sure he was thinking, “overkill” because of my head net.  I’m sure I was thinking, “preppie” because of his choice of chinos, oxford shirt with a scarf (in summer!) and his loafers.  Loafers?  We’re at trailhead.  Please tell me he’s not going to hike in those.

I quickly lose track of them as they seem to be in a hurry and scuffle up the trail.  Taking my time, I soon begin my hike.

I come upon a particular section that is a steady uphill on a grassy tract.  I am well aware of the hoards of black flies swarming outside my insect net which I check to make sure it is secure and there are no leaks.  One black fly can ruin your day.  I am hiking in a swarm of about a hundred.

I also am wearing long sleeves with my hands pulled up inside, and long pants.  No damned black fly will feast on me today.

Soon enough, who comes running down the hill but PreppyBoy.  Running downhill is risky.  Nonetheless, he slows down just enough and says, rather breathlessly, “I’ll give you $20 for that net.”

Without a pause, he then offers, “I’ll give you $50 for that net.”

“Naah, I don’t think so,” I say.

He is near hysterical.  Reaching into his pocket, he gasps, “I’ll give you $100 for that net.”

“No, but thanks for the offer.  Have a nice day.

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