Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wanted, Dead or Alive!

On a very rainy day, I managed some "nature" photography. It took me about 6 trips, walking through the rain, to unload my necessary work materials in the Greenville office. On the drive over from Quincy, I had given up hope of doing any nature photography today. But, as I set the last box on the floor, I noticed a dead house fly. It seemed to be in good shape, although one severed leg lay nearby. For some reason the fly triggered memories of a hilarious passage in Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth in which the author questions God's purpose in inventing the fly. Then I thought of other items in my "fly library." One of my sons' favorites is How Does a Fly Walk upside Down? One of mine is To Know a Fly, by Vincent Dethier.Published almost 50 years ago, it is a beautiful discussion of the scientific method and how a biologist could choose the fly for his/her primary research subject. Always a fan of field guides, such as the Peterson and Audubon series, I find a couple of my "alternative" field guides delightful. One, Flattened Fauna, has a format similar to the popular field guides, but is based on identifying dead animals from silhouettes of their flattened bodies in the road. The dry humor is incredible. Finally, a more recent field guide, That Gunk on Your Car, is a very useful and homorous guide to identifying insects that are likely to go splat on your car. Besides a guide to identifying the splats, the little volume includes interesting natural history notes on many common insects, games to play on road trips, and beautiful color illustrations of the bugs before they go splat.
While that dead fly stirred these musings, and a bit of sadness, I soon found a live fly on the rain-covered window. The fly and I were on the inside, but it felt like a real outdoor field trip and after taking a few more photos, I went home happy. For the curious, I suggest doing a search of Mark Twain's comments on flies. Not only in Letters from the Earth, but in many other writings and transcipts of his speeches. I think he was fascinated by the range of people's reactions to flies, for better or worse, and perhaps concluded that the fly is better adapted to its station in life than we are.

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