Jen Jeffrey Billington: Terror In The Sky

Thursday, August 30, 2018 - by Jen Jeffrey Billington
Jen Jeffrey Billington
Jen Jeffrey Billington

Ah, August. Everything about the end-of-the-summer month made it my favorite on the calendar. I just love the big bold letter A and the way it stands so proud with its hands on its hips mimicking a superhero.

August’s birthstone is the Peridot – a lime green gem that reminds me of the new spring grass with a life-giving energy that turns night into day. And August’s birth flower is the Gladiola. The word itself inspires joy!

It's he end of summer when it is hot, hot, hot and school is in session leaving the outdoors all to myself. Schedules resume after relaxing vacations, and… football season begins! What’s not to love about the month of August?

It also happens to be the month of my birthday in which I am appreciative of another year whilst reflecting on how far in my journey I have trod.

But all of the joy of August drained from my life like a rainbow that leaked all its colors. We live in the county outside of Murray, Kentucky where you see fields and fields of crop land. Corn, soybeans, tobacco and wheat go on for miles on end. It makes a glorious background for the sunrises and sunsets – such scenic, beauty and wildlife. So what happened to cause me to dread August out here in nature’s paradise?

[Cue the doomsday music]

The spawn of the devil himself is born every August in Calloway County. These creatures have nothing – NOTHING good to bring to this world. I am a positive person. I like to find the good in everything. Some may even describe me as being a ‘Pollyanna’ …but August is where my optimistic attitude changes. Instead of happily exploring the trails, or relaxing on my back yard swing, I am busy ‘taking cover’.

If I weren’t a nature-animal lover, it would not be a problem to hide away during the four weeks of terror. But, I have horses to protect from the vicious darkness. The blood-thirsty villains who watch us carefully while planning their attack.

I also have puppies who have to potty a few times a day – and they have no concept of ‘hurry up’ while sniffing the news of the day.

When I lived in Chattanooga, I may have seen a horsefly here and there, but never in my life have I seen the swarms, the attacks and the alarm these creatures cause.

Yes, they are terrorist.

Like a science-fiction novel, these devious vampires have thermogenic eyesight! They see and are attracted to the heat from our bodies on a hot August day. They also are attracted to wetlands (which we live in the river bottoms) and they are attracted to movement, dark colors and carbon dioxide. Great.

So as long as I wear white, and am cold-blooded, (with no hot-flashes) and I don’t breathe, they won’t bother me. I have read plenty of research on these suckers and some believe blood-feasting insects are attracted to certain blood types. Of course, my O+ type is on their list.

My husband is oblivious to them. Last year alone, I was bitten six times with welts the size of a nickel! 

It’s not practical to wear white at the ranch, so the little daredevils love to dive-bomb straight for my denim-covered derriere!

Every single day in August, I am panicked when I hear the B-52 bombers flying around my head and even more panicked when I hear them stop buzzing. It means they found a spot they like and are ready to drill a hole in my skin for a sizeable dinner!

In a USDA Bulletin 1218, Webb and Wells estimated that horse flies would consume 1 cc of blood for their meal, and they calculated that 20 to 30 flies feeding for 6 hours would take 20 teaspoons. This would amount to one quart of blood in 10 days.

They seem to leave our canines alone, but the O+ people and the horses are a target.

I have used ‘natural’ horse fly sprays, but we have them so bad in the bottoms, that I have had to use the heavy duty stuff on my horses. Having seen the blood drips on my equine friends hurts my heart, so I do the best I can to keep the fly strips up and to spray my horses down – all the while trying to avoid these terrors myself. The horses have been protected pretty well this year. The good thing is, we have run in sheds where the horses can take shelter.

Sometimes I think I should spray myself down too – I can’t go out my front door to my Jeep without hearing that awful sound of the ‘attack planes’ zeroing in on me.

It really does sound like a plane coming right at me! And when I hear them zipping back and forth trying to come in for a landing, I am busy dancing like a ninja! I grab the back collar of my shirt and begin shaking it in ripples on my back, I swish my pony tail (the way my horses swish theirs) and I take my other hand and fan the back of my two cheeks a few times.

I’m not sure if I am angrier at the mere invasion of the blood-drawing extremist or the fact of how ridiculous I look trying to protect myself from a bite!

I have only been bitten four times this year, but the hatchings were late in coming. The first week of August I was elated thinking our very cold temperatures and icy winter last year had killed them off. But no such luck - the second week, they showed up with hellacious fury. Will this mean they won’t leave at the end of August?

September is now my favorite month – the month when I can be outside and actually look at the skies and see the beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Where I can be with my horses longer than feed time and spraying them down, and where I can walk my pups without doing the Lord of the Fly dance! September is stress-free!

Hello September.

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