I look at one. A single fluttering instance of life and it is jerked by the wind and lost amidst the throng. It is the second hatch and they are many. Millions. Billions. From inside the house, I can see that the lake flies have coated the screens and the siding. I step outside and their undulating clouds hover like dreams of flight just beyond the fingers of maples and the tips of the pines.
I sit outside grilling and they fall onto the skin of my arms like mouthless mosquitos, looking to rest before their bodies are pulled by breeze or instinct – both equally as palpable in the warm spring – back into the oblivion of their masses. Two coupled mates drop into my lap, copulate, and then fly again.
They don’t eat – the lake flies. They rise from some sheltered inlet from the lake or some shaded puddle in a rotten stump or in the water that has stood forgotten in the ditch. They hatched from their eggs, fed as worms on whatever could be found in those slow, thick waters, and come up, shimmering with gas, to the surface where the narrowest layer of tensioned water formed the final barrier that these tiny animals struggled through to come into the breathing world.
Here, in the air scented with cow droppings scattered overland and pollen pulled by the wind and bulbs of green onion broken underfoot, they breathe and in a day and a half, they mate. And then they die.
The life draws them through the dull rush of the water, into the quick cleansing of the air, back to the womb of the water, and down into the tomb of the aquatic soil.
I sit out by the barbecue one night and a midge lands in my glass, its body quickly wilting under the weight of the liquid. I fish it out with the tip of my index finger and let it dry there on my skin. The alcohol from the wine has undoubtedly begun to evaporate well before the water part of the wine and has probably inundated the insect’s respiratory spiracles, drenching its organs directly with inebriating effects of the substance. The fly is slow to move. It stumbles and bumps its way along the joints of my finger. I show my son – the small blonde one. He’s a loud, wild little boy but has the heart of a saint. “Be gentle!” are the first words out of his mouth. “Aw, he’s just a little guy,” he looks down with big blue eyes that crinkle up at me then with a smile.
I take a hold of his hand, guide his tiny, dirty index finger out to a point and bring my finger close enough to feel the heat from his skin. In a gentle rolling motion, I guide the lake fly’s still moisture-heavy legs off of my skin and onto my son’s. The boy looks at the tiny life that walks along his own finger, cooing and breathing his own unpremeditated wonder over the delicate body of the chironomid.
The midge’s own flock floats in the breeze above our head, dancing and through some unknown alchemy finding each other in the late spring breeze to join and procreate. The one that holds fast to my son’s finger lingers a while, a portion of its allotted thirty-six hours spent here under the breath of a three-year-old boy. I watch his golden hair shimmer in the sun and kiss his head, smelling the sweat and warmth of his small-boy-ness.
I watch him as he watches the midge. And soon, the lake fly’s segmented body is dry, its inebriation gone as quickly as it came, and it is pulled again into flight.
The grill crackles a little ways off, the swallows dip and dive in the air, and I watch as the boy moves on to the next amazement. Two months from now, he’ll be four.
from the collection of: d. heidel