Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mayflies, Tennessee River near Guntersville, Alabama, summer 2000

Nikon FM, 50mm, f/1.4 lens set at f/3.5. Ilford Delta 400 film.

Never before had I seen so many insects in one place, even in an ant hill, and I hope to never see so many again.

It was an infestation of Biblical proportions -- though I've never read about Moses' encounter with a massive hatch of mayflies.

These photos were taken while I was working as a deckhand on the M/V Bearcat, a tow boat on the Tennessee River. Southwest of Chattanooga, near Guntersville, Ala., the river widens and gets more sluggish. And the mayflies hatch there in late spring or early summer.

This photo was taken through the screen window of the boat's galley. Each fly is about an inch long, with a body like an inchworm and wings like parchment. Singly, they make good trout bait, and an imitation mayfly is a classic dry fly for trout. En masse, however, they make for a nightmarish experience.

When I struggled through the airborne mass of flies to where the radar equipment was, the captain (Capt. Milton, an old-style Cajun) pointed to the radar screen. He had it zoomed out as far as it would go, so that it showed a half-mile radius around the boat, and the entire screen was "greened-out" as if there was a tremendous thunderstorm settling down on us. There were so many flies that the radar couldn't see the river.

The flies stuck around for a week or so, then suddenly died within a day. When they died, they collected in piles on the boat, on the barges, and along the shore. They were up to three inches deep on parts of the boat (if I'm lyin', I'm dyin') and we had to shovel them off with an old snow shovel we found in the engine room. But before we could get them all off, they began to rot. They didn't dry up like a house fly or a dead wasp: They rotted and gave off the stench of putrid hamburger.

They did make for an interesting pattern on the window of a boat, I'll say that for them.


Blogger Both Parties Blow said...

I was on the Bearcat, too. I can vouch for everything in this piece, except for the radar image and Milton's comments. If Daniel was awake, I was likely asleep at the time. Especially during the mayfly infestation when you can't even walk outside without a DAMN good reason.

And you've never smelled a stink quite like that stink. It's not as bad as roasting silkworms or a paper mill, but it's not too far short of them.

My friend forgot to mention the sensation of being on the tow near a bank with overhanging branches. The flies get disturbed, and they swarm. They have no idea where they're going, but they know they're going somewhere else.

And sometimes that somewhere is all over you. Most bugs feel hard when they hit you. These things feel soft. Not squishy or slimy. Just soft. It's like being pelted with little wisps of cotton that fly on their own.

If Hitchcock had done more research, I'm convinced that he would have made a movie called "The Mayflies" instead of "The Birds". These things are freaky. I still have nightmares about them sometimes.

2:07 AM  
Blogger Jess said...

Hi Daniel,
I met your buddy Brad in a chat room, and he emailed me a link to your blog. Your pictures are fascinating, and the stories going along with them are cool. I immediately thought of something George Carlin said in one of his books as soon as I saw this picture: " The mayfly only lives a day; and sometimes it rains". Keep 'em coming!

8:47 PM  

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