On May 19, 2021

Outwitting the flies

By Merisa Sherman

It’s that fun time of year, when there’s a fly in my ear.

And my eye, and nose and also my beer.

There is so much greatness in Vermont and such wonderful people, oftentimes it feels like we are living in a dream world. The green mountains, trails that wind through and around them and lakes and streams all create what can feel like a fantasy adventure playground. But every dream has that harsh moment when you are snapped back into reality. 

Well, that moment happens precisely when the something flies up your nose. Then another flies straight down your throat and into your stomach while a third crawls slowly into your ear. 

And the dream very quickly turns into an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Literally. Trapped behind bug netting, the world becomes almost black and white, with pops of flowering colors coming off more like blurry shapes from behind the screen. But then you realize that the blurriness is because you have walked into a hatch and now 100 black flies are swarming your head. Little black dots, only inches from your face, litter the airspace around you like three dimension polka dots. Only a thin netting separates you from being eaten alive. And there is literally no escape.

Perhaps it’s the constant buzzing or the anxiety from the danger that cause the heart rate to rise. Your mind fights the battle between focusing on the task at hand or the potential for fly bites. As you try to focus past the netting and then the black dots, the world seems so far away. Every inch of your body feels like bugs are crawling on you, trying to get under your long sleeve shirt on a 77-degree day. So you move quickly, constantly fidgeting and jerking, anxious to get the work done.

You can only go faster. And you must. Go faster than the flies can attach themselves to you. Whether you walk or bike, once you head under the increasing darkness of the thickening canopy, the temperature drops and you can be sure that your warmblooded body is a prime target. So you must go fast enough to pass through the flies, but this also means you cannot stop moving or slow down. Ever.

The flies will crawl under the hair on the back of your neck, nestled in and protected from the wind. From there, they will feast while you continue on your journey unawares. That is, of course, until you finally scratch your neck, only to realize that your hand is covered in blood. Your blood. Because the flies made you their chew toy. I now hike faster than the flies because I hate hiking with a bug net over my head.

Upon reaching the summit, you look for the windiest spot, hoping the wind will drive the little guys away for good. And then, before descending down to the snow, you put on your bug armor and prepare for battle. The flies are the worst at the trail’s edge, the melting snow create delicious mud pits. The technical footing required to travel down the headwall vies for attention with the swarming black flies. You breathe, trying to focus on clicking in to your bindings before breaking free.

Skiing is faster than black flies. Every time. Like stepping on to a magical surface, snow makes you feel safe. Safe from the blood sucking devils that seem to chase a human absolutely everywhere. You can glide down, free as you please, and not have to worry about anything but skiing. You are rising above, breaking free, playing amongst the clouds and away from the dark life that is black fly season. Then, as you reach the bottom and slowly come back to the mud, you learn how fast you can put a bug net on when you really need to.  

But there is also something meditative in finding serenity when surrounded by black flies. Watch a picnic table full of Vermonters having Mother’s Day dinner while a swarm of flies hovers refuse to go inside because “the flies aren’t biting.” Or a gardener weeding on hands and knees, completely unfazed by the polka dot cloud around them. Most of us can only last for so long before we break, running inside just to take a few deep breaths in safety. Every year we learn a few tricks and we can stay out just a little bit longer, because we remember: it’s only for a few weeks.

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