FEATURE COLUMN by John McDonald: Black flies, tourists right on schedule

By John McDonald

Did you see that article in the paper the other day about black flies? I had to laugh when I saw it because the headline and lead paragraph let readers know right up front that black flies were due to arrive in Maine on schedule, despite our tough winter and cold spring. After reading it — of course — I just had to laugh.

I can understand why a newspaper would run such an article at this time of year. As the month of May approaches, nothing will make get a reader’s attention faster than a headline that includes the two simple words “black” and “flies” in close proximity, but I can’t imagine the typical Mainer sitting around the house on pins-and-needles wondering when some insect expert is going to tell us if there’ll be any black flies with us this spring to share in our outdoor events. It is, however, easier to imagine the typical Mainer choosing the pins-and-needles treatment over a backyard full of angry, hungry black flies.
I can’t say for sure, but I’d say that black flies might be to folks in Maine what piranha are to the folks who live along the mighty Amazon. Okay, so maybe it’s not a perfect analogy, since even I know that piranha have slightly bigger teeth than black flies and seldom leave the water. The point is a bunch of black flies can sure make life unpleasant for people in these parts. Just as people on the Amazon probably tell all kinds of stories about anti-social piranhas, I remember as a kid listening to lots of stories about people getting caught in the North Woods during black fly season and barely escaping with their lives.
My Uncle Earl told a story about a trip he took upcountry years ago during black fly season, when the car he was driving broke down up around Meddybemps. It was black fly season so he had to roll up all the car windows. Before long, the black flies were so thick on the windows the inside of the car was pitch black. I can’t remember how Uncle Earl said he got out of that particular mess, and there’s the distinct possibility he was exaggerating slightly only for emphasis The point is it’s not too hard to imagine something like that happening to someone here in Maine during black fly season.
Uncle Earl told me black flies were first introduced into Maine as part of a state-sponsored tourist-control program that went haywire. The original idea was to place groups of black flies in strategic places around the state to keep Maine from being overrun with pesky tourists.
How did it work?
Well, we now have more black flies and more tourists than we’ve ever had, and both tourists and flies seem to be coming earlier and staying later every year. As Uncle Earl would say: So much for your government programs.”

To contact Maine humorist John McDonald, call 207-240-8324 or email maineauthorjohn.mcdonald@yahoo.com.