Sunday, October 4, 2009

Day 8: Into Buzzards Bay

Day 8 dawned bright and clear and warm, and I recovered my anchor from the malodorous muck of Point Judith and forged ahead.

Actually, "forged" is a more-than-slight exaggeration. I poked ahead. There was wind to be had, but not much of it. Still, it kept me moving and didn't frighten me, so on balance I was doing pretty well.

Except for the flies.

What's the story with those greenhead beach flies? Unless it's really cold, or blowing like crazy, you will find your boat practically covered with them by ten AM or so, even if you're two or three miles offshore. What's their evolutionary business model? They breed on land, surely -- so why do they fly miles out to sea, seeking their prey? And how does their energy budget support this? There's a lot of water out there and not much to eat -- or so you'd think. How do they make this strategy pay?

Are they looking for dead fish floating in the water, and settle upon my tender thin-skinned ankles as a meager second best? Do they bite whales when they come to surface and blow? Do they bite birds?

This much I can tell you: They bite me, con amore e con brio. And they're not like mosquitoes: they bite within a millisecond after lighting. And maybe I'm more susceptible or allergic or whatever, but after a bite from one of these infernal creatures, I find that the site itches for days. No joke: days.

So I hate them. On days like this, when they swarm thick and lively over my boat, I find myself playing an undignified game of 'gotcha' with 'em. And though they have small brains, and I have a large one -- though I have read Kant, or tried to, and they have not, as far as I know -- it's a depressingly even match.

They don't hold all the cards. They seem to need thin skin. If you wear socks, and slightly Audrey-Hepburn-like gloves that cover your wrists, and a cap to protect your pathetic pink bald spot, you've built the Maginot Line. The skin over your kneecaps is still vulnerable, unless you wear long pants -- and who wants to do that, on a boat, in August? -- but you can keep an eye on it. And the skin behind your knees is thin enough for them, but they can't get to that unless you're standing up.

Then there are chemicals. Bug repellent doesn't repel them -- they laugh at it, and in fact I think it attracts 'em -- but if I manage to spritz one with a direct blast of Deep Woods Off, a product with so much DEET that if Iran were making it, Mr Obama would send the Marines -- if I spritz 'em right on the shnoz with this deadly stuff, they fall stunned to the cockpit sole and thrash around spastically until, with a cruel petty sadistic laugh, I grind them under the sole of my grungy topsiders. Take that, I say, between clenched teeth, you fucking bug. You and your clever proboscis and your razor-like mandibles. Think you're the crown of creation? Think again.

They do have some advantages, though. They're amazingly quick. And they can read your mind. They know when you're getting ready to try something, and they take off at Mach Four a microsecond before you start to move. How do they do that? Credit where it's due.

Much of Day 8 was consumed in this immemorial war of vertebrate and in-. To be continued.

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