Midges, mosquitoes, gnats, and black flies. Oh, my. With the burst of warm weather in the northern hemisphere, come the hatches of tiny flying insects.
Mause is learning the ropes of gardening, which means she knows how far her cable reaches and that biting my tulips elicits a response from me. She’s content to watch me pull young maple trees (who knew that would be my greatest garden weed) and gnaw on a fallen branch. But when she rolled over and exposed a belly full of bullseyes, I felt panic rise. My pup had the measles or Lyme disease!
Turns out, the classic bullseye mark associated with tick bites does not occur on dogs. Black flies — also called buffalo gnats — leave the mass of red rings on dog bellies. Mause didn’t seem to mind. I’m allergic to the fly’s saliva, and my bites swell and itch horribly. Grabbing my homemade plantain salve, I applied it liberally to Mause who then licked it appreciatively.
Apparently, plantain in coconut oil is tasty.
The belly bites heralded the tiny flying insect season. They are here. Mosquitoes don’t bother me as long as I have plantain leaves nearby. It grows where mosquitoes live, including my natural lawn. I use an assortment of essential oils and will try making a catnip oil after hearing a neighborhood rumor that it is good for bug repellent. Nothing repels black flies. I heard of a local rock picker who wears a hat with fly-tape and mosquito netting. A website advises smearing petroleum jelly on a hard hat and dressing like a Victorian, covering exposed skin.
Insects can be good fodder for fish and fiction. Think of the fun you can have as a writer, exposing your unsuspecting characters to a swarm of midges. What action might evolve? What character flaws might mosquito bites reveal? If you are writing a regional story, you can research the biting flies.
So far, Mause has had the most bites and they have cleared up. She now chases me through the house when I dab my mosquito bites, having developed a taste for salve. “No lick,” is a new command. While my kiddos visited, we were not harassed by black flies. We spread gravel across what I now call my beach patio and then headed to a Lake Superior beach with BBQ takeout from the Fitz.
After we shared a meal, I introduced Mause to waves. She barked at the rollers as they washed across the beach at a slant. I took off her leash and she chased waves, barking and receiving mouthfuls of water in return. The waves ended at the river’s entrance, and she’d march back to me and renew the chase. I don’t think this is going to be a water-loving dog!
My son joined me in my search, quickly learning the difference between quartz, prehnite, chert and chalcedony. “What’s this, Mum?” He held up a large pink agate the size of bubble gum. He’s a quick learner, that one. My best moment was sharing the hunt with him, and delighting in his finds. The pup ran herself ragged, covered in beach sand and slobber. She fell asleep with her head on my daughter’s shoulder on the ride home, drooling.
Flowers and flies awaited our arrival but within two days the weather shifted. A late winter or early fall, hard to tell in the Northwoods. It’s been a complicated week with lots of personal transitions and I’m wiped. I’ll take the return of cold for now in exchange for reprieve from bites.
Black flies or not, I will travel to Copper Harbor to honor those who gave all this Monday, Memorial Day. I’d like to remember for first cousin twice removed, George Anthony McDermott. My dad shares his name, and according to his WWII draft card, we shared auburn hair and hazel eyes. He worked for one of the fruit packing companies which makes me think of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. He was raised by his half-Portuguese, half-Irish grandmother in Oakland, California where his uncles left to work ranches nearby. George earned the Bronze Medal for “heroic achievement in battle” on Leyte in the Philippines. He died of combat wounds November 6, 1944 and is buried next to his grandmother in Oakland. I wish I knew more of his story.
May 27, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes tiny flying insects. Think about how the insects shape the scene or add to the action. Go where the prompt leads!
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McArthur Wasted Men Like Flies by Charli Mills
Mud and biting flies greeted Sgt. McDermott on the Pacific Island of “lady.” Leyte sprawled, a slattern who rolled soldiers in the mud. Swatting possessed insects proved futile. At night, it rained. Supplies failed to reach American soldiers. McDermott’s unit fought jungle diseases and gunfire unsupported. They lived on coconut and sugarcane, sweetening sweat and blood for the insects. Ormac Valley loomed for the taking. “You’ll get a medal, Sarge,” his men said for his efforts to conquer the last outpost. Before the official battle, McDermott dropped from a sniper’s bullet. His men dropped like flies the next day.