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in the salmon's shadow

SpruceRoots Magazine - November 2002

by Amanda Reid-Stevens

WHIRRLED OR SPLAYED

by Amanda Reid-Stevens

I didn’t get much sleep last night, and it occurred to me this morning, as my forehead was resting in my cereal bowl, that flies aren’t very useful. I don’t know what brought that thought to mind, but the more I mulled it over, the more I became convinced that I was wrong.

Generally, flies are considered by humans to be pesky, germ-ridden annoyances. Lions and buffaloes probably feel the same way. However, my maternal grandmother found them to be more than annoyances. She despised them. If a hapless fly found its way into her house, she waged a prolonged, all-out war against it. She’d let out a whoop and chase it around, sometimes for half an hour or more, until it was exhausted, and then, huffing and puffing, haul off and smack it with her fly swatter. Twice. If she was feeling really ferocious, she smacked it three times. Nana cracked many windows during the course of her life, deriving great satisfaction from flattening flies against glass. And Grandpa was kept busy replacing the glass.

Spiders love flies because they provide sustenance. They don’t care about a fly’s doings, or where it’s been. They don’t mind that flies are bug-eyed and a bit on the crunchy side. And it doesn’t bother spiders that flies aren’t normally served alongside a lemon wedge on a plate. Spiders don’t care about presentation. They know that flies haven’t yet been genetically engineered and, to their way of thinking, that’s all that matters.

Most people think flies are ugly. But it’s all a matter of perception. Entomologists think flies are hauntingly beautiful. As lovely as angels. Why, a single dragon fly’s wings can sometimes carry an entire rainbow. I wonder how many angel’s wings it takes to carry a rainbow. And did you know a house fly has a bunch of miniature eyes built into each one of its two main bug-eyes? It doesn’t get much prettier than that.

As much as we like to think so, all flies are not alike. If you pay attention you will note that certain flies crash-land and stutter-walk upon crusts of bread, spilled wine and jam smears. They court disaster, sealing their fate as they feed. These are the Fearless Flies. Fearless faux-kamikaze flies.

Other flies are forever whirring. They zip vertically, perpendicularly, here and there, up and down, buzzing and frantic. They soar, albeit a tad noisily, in dizzying, ever-widening circles, calling attention to themselves and to the state of the world. These are the Messenger Flies, and perhaps we should pay them more attention.

The Odd Fly is simply that—odd. It just doesn’t get it. It flits around our heads incessantly, and even has the audacity to try and fly up our noses. We can swat at it, crazily, 30 times with our hands, and still it comes back for more. Maybe it knows we’re too lazy to get up and search for the fly swatter. In any case, this fly appears to be the least savvy of all, and is therefore deserving of our compassion.

I could go on and on about a whole slew of fly personality-types, but for the sake of brevity I’ll stop at three.

Despite displaying different characters, there is an unusual talent that all flies have in common. Every one of them can loop-the-loop. Yes—whether strolling across ceilings, bouncing off of walls, or hurtling into light bulbs, windows, ears and lines of vision—all flies, when called upon, can loop-the-loop. It is when engaged in this activity that flies are most cheerful, because they consider themselves to be gainfully employed.

And, so, it can be said that flies are useful. After all, flies make sure we get our exercise. They force us to learn new household repair skills, and occasionally sacrifice themselves to spiders. Flies visit rainbows upon us, and awaken our admiration for primal fearlessness—sort of a déjà vu thing. Flies also carry messages.

And, indeed, as annoying and uncooperative as most flies can be, some few—particularly those splayed—have a propensity to put grins on our faces and inspire deep prose. •