Pestilence Pushback

I love the “Great Outdoors.” Thankfully, I live just two hours from superb mountain ranges hosting pristine alpine and sub-alpine lakes and streams, flanked by forests of Douglas Fir and Lodgepole Pine. And hosting mosquitoes, horseflies, and deerflies.

On a recent backpacking trip, mosquitoes prevailed by sheer number. We all ran out of DEET early and so I simply adapted to tolerating their bites, later scratching my back and shoulders on tree trunks while chatting or eating. I had never done that before, but it felt awfully good. So now it will be in my backcountry repertoire, whether I’ve been bit or just feeling somewhat itchy.

By contrast, horseflies and deerflies are less populous and far more aggressive—but they have been warned. On a hot and dusty hike coming out of the Bighorn Crags, finding myself alone and in a mental zone as our group was stretched out along the trail, I noticed the horsefly strategy. With me in constant motion, my head protected by a hat and my back shielded by my pack, one would buzz up alongside me, darting in and around in a delusional frenzy, looking for a landing opportunity. Indefinitely. So rather than to tolerate the uninvited, noisy companion, I held my arm straight out while continuing to hike and announced that the creature was welcome to radio in for a landing on my sweaty, hairy forearm. It would be a half-successful Kamikaze mission, I taunted. The fly found my enticing airstrip and in the half-second window before it could pierce me, thwack! I repeated this process with three more horseflies, who, fortunately, flew their sorties one at a time—possibly a pride thing. While enjoying my small clever victories—technically still self-defense, not murder—that dusty trail went by a bit faster.

Weeks later when my wife Carrie and I kayaked to the Stanley Lake inlet sandbar (which is making a strong comeback two years after an earthquake sloughed it and a half-acre of trees into the lake), I again had to announce to the local large-fly population that their intentions were not welcome. We were set up in folding chairs and, one by one, they started attacking me (not her, because of the pride thing: it was I who had thrown down the challenge). With the chair protecting my back, and again a hat protecting my head, and my arms consistently in motion with super interesting conversational gestures (or with drinking beer), it was my outstretched bare legs they could pursue. As was my plan.

Fortuitously, a child (I suspect) had previously been at that place in the sandbar and had taken to carving the coarse sand into little canyons to playfully divert the crystal-clear creek water into new channels. My chair straddled one of these rivulets, which flowed gently into a fork of two, each which eventually spilled into a churning hole of deep water speeding off into a different direction. After my first kill, I noticed that the dead predator landed gracefully on its back directly in the water, its wings now serving the more acceptable purpose of a buoyant funeral mat. We watched it slowly drift and made predictions on whether it would spill left or right at the fork. I really thought it would go right, but at the last moment it darted left. SO fun! I didn’t even care that I was “dead” wrong! And then to see the acceleration as the waterfall-hole entrained the corpse into violent disappearance—we had been reading aloud, snacking, and sun-tanning, but this was my recreational highlight. I announced to all nearby dipterans that this would be their fate if they did not change their ways.

I must confess that thwack number three was the most delightful, because as this unteachable horsefly fell into the rivulet beneath my chair, I noticed its legs still flailing about. Like the other two before, it landed on its back (horseflies have not gone to cat school). I watched it float away, karate-kicking the sky, its body hanging up at the fork before succumbing to the suction of the right channel. So not only was it dispatched alive, but it was the only “rightie” that afternoon. Bonus! I did feel a little ashamed at my zest for this one’s mode of demise, but also insisted that the message to the others was perhaps sent more strongly this way. Not surprisingly, that was the last one to accost me. We finished our Tim’s jalapeño chips and beers, enjoyed the sunshine, and kayaked back to our campsite.

Since I started working on this little account, I’ve been stung by wasps four times, twice in our garden and twice while running stairs at our fairgrounds. Wasps will hit a moving target and don’t even have to land to make the sting. Terrifying. But I don’t think it had anything to do with the fact that I was planning to gloat about the fly kills—after all, wasps are in a whole different order, and insects are racist. This was a coincidence. Either way, I’ll carry along DEET and Raid for the rest of bug season.

Copyright © 2022 Richard Berndt – All Rights Reserved.

Leave a Reply

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: