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Lange: The Black Fly Cometh

05/10/12 7:55AM By Willem Lange
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(Host) We always look forward to spring and its rebirth, but writer, storyteller and commentator Willem Lange reminds us that one of nature's most irritating and pestilential creatures is also reborn each May.  'Tis the season... of the black fly!

(Lange) What were we thinking, a month ago, when we wished the snow out of the woods and the marsh marigolds blooming?

We weren't thinking: weren't remembering: As soon as the little brook below the house warmed up a few degrees, the larvae clinging to its bottom would pupate, rise to the surface, and take off toward the sound of a man too old to run, pushing a lawnmower.

In the 1940s, a young Canadian named Wade Hemsworth working on survey crews in Labrador and northern Ontario, was driven to distraction by flies swarming on him while he tried to read his instruments. He wrote and later recorded "The Black Fly Song," now a Canadian classic - which goes in part:

It was black fly, black fly everywhere,
A-crawlin' in your whiskers, a-crawlin' in your hair;
A-swimmin' in the soup, and a'swimmin in the tea.
Oh, the devil take the black fly and let me be!

All of us who've worked or camped in the north have black fly horror stories. At Kathawachaga Lake in 1989 in the Northwest Territories; they covered an overturned yellow canoe till it was dark brown. At treeline on the Ungava Peninsula in 1999, they drowned by the hundreds in our cups and bowls and flew inside our head nets if we lifted them briefly to eat or drink. They sounded like rain showers on the tent fabric. Waking up at night in the tent, I used to go outside; now I take an empty bottle to bed.

Most people have never seen a black fly up close. It looks like a six-legged bison with two wings, a jacket of chain mail over its shoulders, and a mouth full of knives. Only the females bite; they need blood. The males are flower children, and go about pollinating plants. Both are essential to the natural cycle, as pollinating agents and a virtually unlimited source of protein for migratory birds, whose chicks hatch as the flies are emerging.

We once spent a day in the Inuit hamlet of Baker Lake, west of Hudson Bay. We talked with a local character, an Inuk named Henry Ford. As we chatted, he was waving his hands around his head. Somebody said, "I thought you people didn't mind the flies."

"Are you kidding?" Henry said. "If you're down in Winnipeg in January, and you see a guy walking along waving his arms, you know he's from Baker Lake. Eh?"

This is Willem Lange in Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.

(Music tag) Hemsworth singing:
The Black Flies, the little Black Flies,
Always the Black Fly no matter where you go
I'll die with the black fly a-pickin' my bones
In north Ontar-eye-o, eye-o, in north Ontar-eye-o!

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