Friday, August 14, 2015
The other day I was rather sharp when it came to a certain Minnesota dentist lion killer. I intimated quite strongly that he kept a pit of man eating sharks on his private island stronghold where he hunted shipwrecked human prey in a sporting, but still cruel and insane, manner. I also suggested this hunter might be found to have some billing irregularities when is came to his unusually lucrative dental practice.
But I wanted to say here that Who Am I To Judge? Who am I to judge this big game trophy hunter? Who am I to say it is so evil to bag a lion or an elk or polar bear? Who am I, sitting up here in my remote and dreamy vacation home, over the very shore of Lake Superior, to be so critical of a hunter who is ever following the thrill and danger and triumph and challenge of bringing down a ferocious beast?
I am no one to judge this dentist, no one at all. For I am a hunter too.
I am a fly hunter.
I am a hunter of flies, a hunter of the defenseless fly. And, sadly, I too understand and cannot resist the thrill of the hunt.
Like any youth I grew up making the idle, irritated swats at any number of flies. But I remember no particular accuracy or avidity in this endeavor. There was no noticeable proclivity or indication of my future. It was not an avocation that developed gradually or with any warning. It happened all at once, with a house.
In my early twenties I moved to a house in a small town in Sonoma County called Penngrove. It was a charming, albeit rundown, house, on the edge of the lovely wine country countryside. Like an astonishing number of places I have moved into, this one in Penngrove had been driven to the edge of decrepitude by its previous tenant. I have, in the past, moved into a former heroin den in Oakland, and my current house itself, now immaculate and adorable some $40,000 and 40,000 man (and woman!) hours later, had, when we moved in, gaping holes in the walls and the imprimatur of the previous long term tenant's hardcore poverty "never call the landlord" aesthetic. The last tenant of the house of my wife and I was actually so much like the last tenant in the Penngrove house that they are nearly identical in my mind. The main difference with the Penngrove tenant (we'll call him Jerome) was that he hadn't lived there as long and so had done less sustained, erosive damage than the last tenant (we'll call him Jerome) of our own house.
The Penngrove house was filthy when I moved in with my friend Patty, and, temporarily, her former boyfriend Seth. Jerome appeared to live on cheap steaks he broiled directly in the oven's broiling pan (that he never cleaned), and he dealt with the vast clouds of greasy smoke this produced by throwing open all the screenless windows in the house. As to how he dealt with the terrible, vast swarms of flies this ushered into the house, he didn't.
And thus the Penngrove house was when Seth, Patty, and I arrived late in the summer of 1988. We crossed over with Jerome, who was having himself a farewell steak. The house was smoky, filthy, and swirling with flies.
We cleaned. We built our own screens for all the windows. But the flies were a more persistent problem. They moved. They did not leave when one told them to. And they were fast, wary, and elusive. Nothing we did was very effective in ridding ourselves of them, and ever they emerged from hidden sources.
Until we hit upon the vacuum cleaner. There was an old, upright vacuum in the house. I don't know if the bottom part was gone or broken or we simply removed it, but the upright vacuum terminated in a simple tube. The tube produced a mediocre, at best, level of suction. One could not simply point the vacuum at a fly and suck it up, one had to stalk the fly, slowly. One had to get within a foot or so of the fly without startling it, and then swiftly thrust. The vacuum, thus handled, sucked up the fly into its innards and produced in its wielder a tiny burst of triumph.
Through days of careful hunting, and with improving technique, we slowly cleared our house of flies.
And a fly hunter was born.
Let us move forward in time some quarter of a century. My wife and I rent this beautiful vacation home on the shore of Lake Superior. It is ours for a week at a time. It feels a little like heaven here. And yet it also makes me think of that Penngrove house. Maybe because they're both in such uniquely pretty places. Maybe because they're the only rural houses I've ever lived in. Or maybe because they both somehow manage to produce, from out of nowhere, a slow stream of flies.
The first summer we were here I was hounded by a fly and hounded it back. I stalked and attacked it for 24 hours, until, in something akin to a miracle, I caught the fly in my bare hand and removed it to the outdoors (account here). This was clearly not a sufficient solution for the number of flies showing up in this house. I needed a clever and powerful device in the nature of Penngrove's sawed-off vacuum.
We went to a hardware store and I put my most creative, problem solving frame of mind into play. They were selling some cheap, small, very long handed plastic spatulas. These spatulas were flimsy and whippy and just the thing. I took one of these home and called it a "fly spatula". I used it to swat flies.
This fly spatula was brilliant. I keep it nearby always. And when, as one does every hour or two, a fly shows up, I patiently track it. Then with one sharp swat I splatter the fly into whatever surface it has alighted upon. Then I clean it up with a half wet kleenex.
I am a fly hunter.
Do I enjoy all this fly hunting?
Well, yeah, sort of.
And if it were to turn out that I killed a fly that was beloved in the nearby town of Grand Marais? If they had a mascot fly that tourists came from far away to see and to buy stuffed versions of and postcards and wind up toys? If I killed that fly? If I became a notorious mascot fly killer reviled throughout all the Northlands, what defense could I mount? What could I possibly say?
Nothing. There is nothing I could say. I would be guilty. I am a fly hunter.
So maybe I should try and go easy on that dentist lion hunter, even if he is probably a cannibal or something. I have my own crimes to speak to. I have blood on my own hands to account for, even if that blood appears to come in the color of green, and is produced in tiny, tiny, tiny amounts.