By Denele Campbell
The car kicked up a cloud of dust as I hurtled down the long driveway.
In my rush, I turned onto the county road and traveled another half mile before I noticed the creature that held on furiously just outside my side window, some kind of small waspish fly, its bulbous eyes perched like wire-rimmed glasses on its orangey-maroon head, its tidy black veined wings tucked sleekly along the sides of its narrow black thorax. Its thin legs flexed and strained to remain anchored in spite of the force of the air stream as I sped along.
This was not a singular event. My rural wooded property hosts bugs of infinite variety, some of which end up resting on my car. On any given trip to town, I might inadvertently transport tan walking sticks, red, yellow, or black wasps, skinny dirt-dobbers, black, blue, or green flies, beetles of every conceivable shape and shade, spiders, ticks, bees, mosquitos, gallinippers, moths, ants of assorted size, and any other of so many multiple-legged beings that I suspect some of them have, to date, escaped scientific classification.
Notable creatures such as the saddle-backed, black stinkbug or the lime green preying mantis usually merit my immediate pull-over, where I carefully remove them to roadside vegetation wondering if they find any advantage in new territory. I’ve considered whether higher insect intelligences, like flies, might purposefully plan for such transport. One large green fly made it all the way to town, having carefully positioned himself in a joint of the windshield wiper, perhaps with a particular lady city-fly in mind.
I rarely see them as I load in my gear, back up, and drive away, not until I have picked up speed, until they begin to slide, inexorably, across the waxed paint of the car’s body or the smooth glass of the windshield. They ride in ignorance, misunderstanding the threat. From their egocentric viewpoint, the problem is not that they are unwitting passengers on the rides of their lives, but simply that a strong wind has sprung up.
The challenge is to hold fast.
On this particular morning, the red-headed fly had arrived at my parked car door, at what seemed a perfectly fine spot to rest, groom and digest his latest meal. As I began driving and the sudden gale blustered around him, he braced himself, securing every foot firmly to the spot. He had no concepts through which to anticipate that his greatest risk came with hanging on to what seemed familiar surroundings, that ultimately he would be farther away from what he knew and desired than he would have been if he had simply let go.
As I cruised along the road, the tiny red and black fly gripped ever more frantically to maintain his hold. In order to offer the least wind resistance, his body bent and contorted, stretched and elongated, the severity of his effort betrayed by erratic flare-ups of his wing tips. Staring at me through the side window glass, he seemed to question me in panicky stares.
Some bugs come to a forty mile per hour realization, I said. While I’m still on this back road, in a serendipitous flash of insight, they let go.
I waited for his response. He tensely adjusted his wings and aimed his head more into the wind.
After some scary free fall, I continued, they find themselves in the thickets near Miller’s pond.
We drove farther and his stance remained resolute.
Or in the rocky ditch, I said, or in the middle of Mr. Breedlove’s herd of Angus. Wherever you might find yourself, I’m sure you could optimize the situation—you know, discover a trove of aphids or a lonely female.
I glanced to see if he was listening. The red-black fly showed no hint of a high-speed epiphany but instead re-exerted his desperate clench.
Ignoring the urging of my more generous side, I accepted little ongoing responsibility as to the fly’s future well-being. It was, after all, an insect. And I was in a hurry.
The road merged onto the highway, and I accelerated. Listening to the radio, absorbed in anticipating my day’s schedule, and maneuvering through heavy traffic, I failed to notice when his tiny sticky foot pads ripped loose from the slick paint of my car door.
Halfway into town, I realized he was gone.
Briefly, I suffered anxiety on his behalf. Had he made his leap at the right moment, I wondered? Was his grip torn free in the surge of a passing truck, bringing him to join countless distant kinsmen already pasted to its front grill?
Had he ever understood the threat?
Had he understood and somehow just hadn’t figured out the best timing?
I narrowed my thoughts to more pressing considerations. The city lay ahead. In a continuing ethical quandary about my role in the greater scheme of things, I decided to believe that he knew what he was doing all along and got off right where he intended.
Reprinted with permission from her book: I Met a Goat on the Road and Other Stories of Life on this Hill.
Denele Campbell, Arkansas native, tracks her family’s roots in the state back to the early 1800s and credits this history for her love of homegrown tomatoes and hoot owls late at night. After college and a few years on the West Coast, Campbell and her then-husband settled on a tick-infested Ozark hilltop to raise three children amid organic gardening, milking goats, and preparing for the apocalypse. By 1980, Campbell had begun a career of piano tuning and repair. An inveterate activist, through the ‘80s and ‘90s she took a leadership role in the Arkansas chapter of the National Organization for Women, ran for school board and formed a parent-teacher group at her children’s school, joined with other concerned citizens to stop a trash-burning incinerator, and founded an environmental action/education committee. In 1999, she began efforts to bring legalized medical marijuana to Arkansas, an effort which continues today under different leadership. In 2005, she retired from her piano career with retirement in mind. Alas, her dream of opening a tea room had her by the throat, and so from late 2008 through December 2011, she made that dream a reality with Trailside Café and Tea Room in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Finally sanity prevailed. She has now blown up the road between her rural home and town in order to devote herself to writing. She is the author of Rex Perkins: A Biography. Follow her at her blog and on Facebook.
Photo: Provided by Author
Editor: Marcee Murray King
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