In the book of Genesis, after the fall from Eden, God tells Adam that he will no longer have it easy.
The first man is told he’ll have to earn his living by the sweat of his brow, and that the world which once obeyed him would now fight back. Most telling, I think, is God’s curse that things which bite and sting would plague mankind forever.
I am reasonably sure God had the bugs of Southeastern North Carolina in mind when He pronounced that sentence.
I am not one for killing every insect I see. I know many, indeed most of them, are just working for a living. They all serve a purpose, whether it’s to feed other bugs and larger creatures, to pollinate, or help break down earthly remains into fertilizer to start the whole process over again.
There are some bugs, however, whose entire existence I think is designed primarily to remind man of exactly how bad Hell will be for those who are not saved.
Take yellow flies, for instance. Some people call them deer flies, which may or may not be an accurate name, but at the very least, those bloodsucking, skin-chewing minions of the Evil One are kissing cousins. Or they would be kissing, if they were not chewing into flesh and leaving bleeding welts.
I have rarely found a repellant that will work consistently against yellow flies. Indeed, I am not sure that they can be killed, except by a fast-slapping hand, or a healthy dose of furniture polish (true story, which we will get to later).
My poor bride, who hates shoes, lives in misery from the last week of May (usually) through the second week of July (usually). That’s the peak of yellow fly season around our place, and they have an unnatural attraction to her bare toes. They’re significantly less picky about me — any bare flesh is a good target, especially if I am sweating.
Many of you remember the Burning Summer of 2011, when we were deep in a drought and the sky stayed stained with wildfire smoke. For reasons I do not know, the yellow flies were especially bad that year around our home. In desperation one day, I grabbed the first can of spray anything I could find, and opened fire on a cluster of yellow flies on my leg.
They dropped with a satisfying thud, deader than common sense and good manners.
I do not know why they were so susceptible to the polish, but I nailed a good dozen that sweaty, stinking afternoon. That Pledge killed them faster than DDT ever killed any bug.
I should note that I was helping clear out an old store once, and we discovered, to our horror, about 150 pounds of a powdery material with the letters “DDT” in bold black ink on rotting paper bags. It was sold by a farm supply house that closed in the 1950s.
I watched a yellow fly land on one of the leaking bags; it had no effect.
Anyway, my yellow fly massacre wasn’t the first time I used furniture polish on a reminder of why we all need grace and forgiveness.
When I was a kid, there was a famous paper hornet nest in a neighbor’s tree. The nest was actually a beautiful work of art, whereas the artists were temperamental and stung with an indescribable pain when they were agitated. Naturally, we boys had to agitate them at every available opportunity.
One of the things got into our old house one day, and I thought it was chasing me. In reality, I know it was likely trying to get out, just as I know it wasn’t four inches long and an inch thick — minus the stinger.
In a panic, I found the wasp spray that my parents had strictly forbidden me to use, and I kept trying to soak the flying menace. I suspect my aim was off, but I decided the bug was actually absorbing and enjoying the poison.
Mother had left a can of — you guessed it — furniture polish on the cabinet where she had been cleaning the night before. I grabbed it, and began spraying the Minion of Satan.
It didn’t die as quickly as the yellow flies, but it did finally crash to the floor, coated in enough Minwax to have polished the entire house, twice. Quick as a whistle, I grabbed a convenient block of wood from my box of toys, and smashed that bug into oblivion. It actually left a permanent stain on the floor.
Concerned that I might get in trouble for wasting the furniture polish — that stuff wasn’t cheap, even in 1974 or so — I promptly began polishing everything I could. When Mother got home, I modestly took my praises for being a good little helper, and casually mentioned that I had killed a paper hornet, thus adding courage to the industry on my resume.
I have always, even as a stingaphobic child, been compassionate toward bees. I even wanted to keep a bumblebee as a pet when we lived in the little house in the country, and I was always hopeful that our old house in town would have a beehive move into the wall. My dad had written a story about such a hive that was discovered when the honey dripped down the clapboard at the rate of pint a day, and I could think of nothing grander than a free supply of honey.
However — I despise a carpenter bee, except as a target.
Carpenter bees and I share a mutual passion for old wood and old homes; however, I want to save and restore said old buildings, whilst carpenter bees want to eat them. I will not bore my readers again with my passion for using pallet slats, badminton rackets and .22 rifles loaded with ratshot to practice my wingshooting and destroy carpenter bees. I will say that carpenter bees at least serve a purpose: amusement.
In John’s Revelation, he describes brass-headed stinging biting things that fly. As hardheaded as horseflies are, I am fairly sure they will evolve into such locusts when the end times come.
Since we have livestock, we have horseflies. Large, nasty, fast horseflies with grinding teeth that they use to cut into the flesh of both humans and animals to suck blood. For years, my wife carried a scar from a horsefly that bit her through a bathing suit on our honeymoon. It greatly amused the other folks at the pool when I slapped her backside (although I did gain husband points by killing that wretched bug.)
When my eyes were younger and my hands steadier, I used to shoot horseflies with a BB gun; more than once, it was not a clean kill, thus testifying to their fortitude. I now prefer the simpler, more direct method of simply slapping the vermin, although I have had to change shirts when I was on the way to work and the blood flew.We will save mosquitoes and fireants for a column on another day, but I’m fairly sure they are lumped in with the other varmints designed to torment mankind.
I am a hunter and a trapper; I do not kill for fun, but to eat, or to sell a hide to help provide for my family and balance nature.
When it comes to bugs that bite and sting and draw more blood than an overachieving phlebotomist, however — I admit, I smile a little when things go splat.