Open the toilet curtains first thing in the morning and, disturbed from their huddled slumber in the dark recesses of the curtain folds they fly into face and hair; one or two drop into the toilet bowl, still swirling around in the water after I’ve flushed. Squashed in a sheet of toilet paper I avoid sentencing them to a slow death by drowning, and swaddled, they flush down.
The in-your-face flurry is alarming but mercifully brief: calm restored once curtains and louvre window are opened, and, as is my custom, I can daydream away my toilet time, only occasionally interrupted by the glimmer of a thought.
I’m not the one to call when you need ‘Clusterbusters’. You need to get June on the job: fly spray on the toilet curtains, window surround and a squirt in mid-air for good measure. To keep them and the spray in, she’ll roll up an old towel and put it along the bottom of the door.
Flies in the warm, dark, dry recesses of our windows and curtains, are as much a sign that autumn’s arrived as the cooler nights that’s driven them indoors in the first place, in preparation for overwintering in large clusters.
Some years are worse than others, and this is shaping up to be one of those cluster flies in all sorts of cracks and crevices years. Behind tarpaulins and under sacks, in the tool shed all a buzz round my face as I open the shed door, while yet more emerge in the sunshine to crawl and excrete en masse over the tool shed window.
Just prior to the cluster fly invasion, June had brushed off all the webs on the outside of the house. Now webs are reappearing across the house’s weatherboard overlaps – the spiders must be gorging themselves on all those fatty flies.
Those that get squashed as you open and close windows stick to the frame – flat greasy black smudges that are hard to remove. We had such a bad infestation one year that several hundred had huddled in a single cluster behind a sheet of wallpaper that needed regluing. And a black blanket of them behind a calendar on the wall. They’ll also cluster along ceiling cornices and in the top corners of rooms, making where they’ve been dirty with their excrement.
Pat, an artist friend, told me a cluster fly horror story that still makes me shudder. His output had been so prolific leading up to the nightmarish discovery that he had close to two hundred paintings leaning against walls in a shed on his Wairarapa property. Flies in their thousands had clustered amongst the stacks of canvases, ruining the paintings by peppering them with brown spots of excrement.
Thousands upon thousands of them excreting and secreting; I guess we should be grateful that they’re not a threat to human health. By the time they get to snuggle up indoors in autumn they’re intent on finding a ‘Location, Location, Location’ winter hideaway, living off their fat reserves and releasing pheromones to lure other flies to their cluster to help keep them all warm and dry while they hibernate.
Come spring and they’re out and about over lawns and pastures laying their eggs in cracks in the soil. As soon as they’re hatched the maggots wriggle down the cracks on the hunt for any hapless earthworm that happens to be slithering by. Latching on they get a foretaste of the juicy goodies in store as they drill their way into the worm.
“The worm does not usually survive the experience,” states one entomologist*. Hard not to imagine what it must be like to be eaten alive from the inside when you use a word ripe with the infinite possibilities of what it means to be human: experience!
The experience of paying more attention to cluster flies and writing about their annual autumn influx makes me wonder whether my interest has now been sufficiently piqued to follow Sue Hubbell’s example, when she writes about becoming intrigued by what an entomologist friend said were probably sawfly larvae:
It is springtime again. I would like to count the caterpillars’ prolegs and am prepared to pickle a few to satisfy my curiosity, but mostly I should just like to watch them again. … I have more questions about them than when I first saw them.
This spring I often walk along, eyes to the ground, looking for them. There may have been nobler quests – white whales and Holy Grails … [but] I am cut of other stuff and amuse myself in other ways. The search for what may or may not be sawfly larvae seems quite a good one this springtime.
from a country year – living the question by Sue Hubbell
I’m not of a frame of mind to feel confident that I would actually search for cluster fly maggots next spring. But Sue Hubbell’s way of putting it, taken as a metaphor, affirms the value of all of creation, all of life, and that sounds pretty good to me.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.