The Red Badge Of Gardening

Stephen Crane wrote The Red Badge Of Courage, a great story about a boy who comes of age and makes some discoveries about himself while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War.  The “red badge” refers to a bullet wound received during a battle.

63df9dab3e7af1dc1379ec62f02a86ebI’ve got a few red badges of my own — from gardening.  Except my red badges don’t reflect bullet wounds, thank goodness!  Instead, they spring from bug bites, nicks, rashes, scratches, welts, thorn punctures, and other minor wounds inflicted while digging in the dirt, pulling weeds, clipping off and carting off dead branches, levering out and lugging off rocks, roots, and tree stumps to clear the ground, and doing the other things that gardeners do.  Oh, yeah . . . and a decent sunburn, too.

I think gardening is fun, but it isn’t the bucolic, pastoral experience you might suppose.  Plants have defense mechanisms, and so do the insects that live on and around them.  Pesky weeds and overgrown wild rose bushes and raspberry bushes are happy to give you a scratch or two while you are removing them from their patch of ground, and Maine is home to some ferocious biting insects.  During this time of year, the biting insect brigade is led by the Maine black fly, as well as the mosquito and horse fly.  The black flies apparently can bite through the hide of a moose, so I’m an easy target.  And after suffering the indignity of a bite, you’ve got several days of itchiness to remind you that you’ve invaded the black fly’s territory.

I look at my arms and survey my backyard battle scars, and realize I’ve probably got more marks than I’ve had at any time since I was a kid and summertime was spent outside all day long.  My red badges of gardening are just the price you pay for a little outdoor activity, but boy — I could do without those maddening black flies.

A Foul Plague Of Biting Black Flies

Household flies are a nuisance.  They buzz around the house, occasionally alight on an unwashed cup or bowl, and are hard to catch.  Imagine, however, if instead of just being an annoyance they also inflicted sharp physical pain.

Such is the case with black flies.  We were exposed to the tender mercies of black flies during our Hen Island adventure, and they are a menace.  The black flies look just like regular flies — to this untrained eye, at least — but they inflict a vicious bite.  The blood-sucking little devils tended to bite at about ankle level, which makes it difficult to get them before they fly away and then land on your other leg.  The bites turn red and itch for a day or two.

These flies are ubiquitous in the Midwest in the areas around lakes and rivers and are much despised, for good reason.  They apparently are capable of biting even through clothing, and they seem to sneer at bug spray.  Can a culture really call itself civilized when its people are tormented by such dastardly creatures?  Isn’t there some kind of scientist or researcher, somewhere, who can figure out how to effectively kill black flies?  Anyone who wanted to make a fortune would be well advised to develop a means of ridding the world of this wretched pest.