Jen Jeffrey: Lordess Of The Flies

Monday, September 1, 2014 - by Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey

When I was a child, I remember seeing cartoons where one of the characters bothers a bee hive and the bees begin to chase them and then… BULLSEYE! I was a curious child, but not curious enough to see if that would actually happen. I had a certain respect for the bees and left them alone.

One afternoon when I took the Greys for a walk, there was a dead millipede in front of the garage. I don’t mean the little centipedes – these things are thick and as long as the palm of a hand. I kicked it out of the way so the Greys wouldn’t try to eat it and it came apart in pieces. Apparently the dead crumbling millipede had been dead for a while and soon I heard buzzing around my head!  I thought the hollow carcass hosted some hornets that were now upset with me.

Without knowing for sure (and I didn’t wait around to find out) I lifted the Greyhounds’ leashes up so that we could run fast! They had no idea why we were running before they even had a chance to do their business or to sniff around a little, but they are always up for whatever I suggest. I suggested we run like the wind far away from the buzzing antagonists circling my head!

We ran all the way up to the gravel road on the right where we take our long Saturday morning walks. But it wasn’t Saturday… what was supposed to be a quick after lunch time poo, turned into a fast run far down the road. When we turned onto the road and ran halfway up the hill, I finally stopped. The Greys had no idea why we ran so fast or why we stopped but they began their usual sniffing and pooing.

I really thought that I had outrun the hornets, but sure enough a big black thing came circling around my head buzzing me and sounding as if he were looking for the bullseye! What was I going to do? I couldn’t run forever and they doggies were …sort of busy.

So, I found an empty water bottle in the ditch and I picked it up waving it over my head while Spec and Sweetie finished what they had to do. It didn’t seem to help and I didn’t like touching the dirty bottle. I threw it back down and then I went all-ninja. I karate-chopped the air fast and furiously as I tried to keep the hornets from stinging me.

How did they know? Did I have dead millipede scent on my foot? I began scuffing my shoe on the gravel road hoping to get rid of the scent. The too-fast-for-me-to-see flying insects were dive-bombing us. All I could see was that they were black and they were huge and sounded too close for comfort.

After Spec and Sweetie were ready to leave I motioned for them to run with me again. We ran fast and tried to run in between the black swarm that was circling overhead. They were buzzing my ears. It was a quick run with the Greys and we didn’t get to spend too much time together, but we all were in agreement to get inside where we were safe.

I could have sworn that I had smelled fresh fertilizer outside. We have cornfields on both sides of our farm and a bean field across from the farm. I wondered if maybe that smell brought the swarm and they were not actually inside the dead millipede carcass that I kicked, but I didn’t take a chance. I showered and washed off any dead millipede scent or hornet scent so that when I went outside the swarm would not know it was me. I even washed my shoes!

But each time I went outside I heard the buzzing and saw a fury of insects circling overhead. Jason told me they looked like horseflies. I saw a couple of dead wasp in the cat room and I thought that must have been what was flying all over the place, but then I saw a huge, mutant horsefly on the brick of our house. It took off flying and made the same buzzing sound that I had been hearing.

I realized that I didn’t get swarmed with hornets from kicking a dead millipede carcass, but I just couldn’t be okay with the nuisance that was disrupting my world as I knew it. I asked Jason if this was a normal occurrence each year and if it was some sort of ‘horse fly season’ out on the farm or if the farmers using fertilizer recently had brought them and they would go away in a few days as the smell died down. He didn’t know. He said, “We live on a farm, Jen… there isn’t anything we can do about it.”

That wasn’t good enough for me. I didn’t need him to ‘fix it’ – I just wanted to understand it. I like to be prepared. How long does the swarm last? A few days? All through fall? And, what causes it? Jason didn’t understand why I needed to know these things or how I would ‘prepare’. When I walk the Greys, I want to know if those things are after us and if they will attack. Will they bite us if we stop moving? How long will I have to wear a hat to keep them from buzzing my head? Would they leave after the manure scent died down?

And my last but dreaded question… is this farm life in the summer? Is this how it is going to be from now on? What else is out there? I have dealt with snake season pretty well and, the ‘tiny flying beetle’ infestation in our bathroom for a few weeks … do we now have horsefly season? We don’t even HAVE horses!

The fertilizer scent died down after a couple of days, but the horse flies were still swarming making it stressful to go outside and having to dodge the dive-bombers each time. They aren’t just around our house – they are scattered all across the fields and there is not any space where I don’t see them circling around. I thought since Jason had lived on the farm for a few years he should know if this was a ‘seasonal thing’ or not. I needed to find out.  I mean, what if it was some sort of plague or something and Jesus was coming? I would need to get my rapture shoes ready.

Okay, so my husband was no help in answering my questions and I guess I was just supposed to ‘accept this as farm life’.

I hoped that it was going to end soon, but after dodging them each time that I walk the dogs, it has become unpleasant to walk them. After coming back from the grocery store a few weeks ago, I had to make sure one did not get inside my Jeep when I opened and closed the door while getting the groceries out.

I was able to make it inside without being attacked or have one follow me in the house, but it was nerve racking! As I was bringing the last bag in, with a gallon jug of orange juice inside,  two black ugly horse flies buzzed me making me lose my grip on the bag and the jug of orange juice fell out of the bag, burst open and orange juice was all over the front driveway.

It made me feel as though I were in a Stephen King novel and I shuddered after making it back inside. What if the flies started coming in the house? What if they laid eggs and more flies come? What if I am bound for indoors forever never to see the sun again! The greatest fear is fear of the unknown. I couldn’t just accept this.

After I put the groceries away, I got on the Internet and did some research to ease my concerns. Apparently in Kentucky, it is horse fly season nearly the whole month of August… great…  “Happy birthday to me.” The season lasts three to four weeks and the flies are prone to wet areas or near livestock. This let me know that since we live in the river bottoms, it is not a good place to have horses. It would break my heart to have a horse here on the farm and deal with those buzzing humongous flies.

The female horse fly is the one that needs to feed on blood to produce her eggs. She feeds on livestock, pets and any warm-blooded animal …including humans.

They are attracted to dark objects and… moving objects! So, when I was running away from them I was lucky not to get bitten that day. Running is what attracts them. A moving target! No ninja karate chops were going to protect me.

I read more about the biting farm invaders: “The female horse fly uses her sharp, knife-like mouthparts to slash open the skin; the mandibles of large horse flies are powerful enough to cut through tanned leather.  After opening a wound, the female injects saliva that has anticoagulation properties and she then laps up the free flowing blood.  The bite is extremely painful, and blood continues to flow from the wound even after the female finishes feeding.”

This made me never want to go outside again! But I am not a defeatist. I planned to find a way to co-exist with these creatures for the next three weeks and become Lordess of the Flies. I have tried to remember to wear light clothing and move as slow as a slug. I would wear my wide-brim western hat when I walked the Greys and I have done a lot of praying.

The swarms have died down over the last three weeks and horse fly season is almost over.

I survived… and I still heart farm life.

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