Image credit: Roger Smith on Flickr
I suspect that just about anyone who has lived around here for any length of time has probably had a run-in with an uninvited crane fly at some point. Found mostly in the Summer and occasionally noted with horror as being similar in appearance to unusually large mosquitoes, crane flies are pretty much harmless (although their larvae are considered to be a pest for their tendency to feed on grass roots, which can result in lawn damage if left unchecked.) They don’t sting, they don’t bite, (in fact, most species don’t even feed at all upon reaching maturity) don’t spread any diseases, and for the most part they don’t really do much of anything really, except for show up at the most inopportune times and annoy the heck out of you. They also have an annoying tendency to stick around whether you want them there or not (but when was the last time you actually wanted one of these things around?)
About 15-20 miles past Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 between Easton and Cle Elum there is a ranch/campground owned by the LDS church which is known as Ensign Ranch, and which is frequently the location for overnight activities. I was attending one such activity last night with a group of single adults. To be perfectly honest, although I come equipped with most of the basic camping gear when I attend these things, I’ve never been all that great camping. The one time I got involved with an actual “roughing it” type campout back when I was in the process of flunking out of the Boy Scouts was, in a word, disastrous. Not quite so much that they had to airlift me out or anything like that, but enough so to put me off the idea of ever doing anything like that for fun, or anything resembling it. This means that on the rare occasions when I do go camping it’s mostly of the wimpy “car camping” variety. In this particular case I mean this literally, as I end up sleeping in my car. I think I may have actually done a Blog post on this a couple of years ago, but to make a long story short, I’ve figured out that when I fold down the front and back seats of my car (the front passenger seat can be folded down flat to basically get it out of the way) and put down one of those self-inflating foam pads I can create a semi-passable sleeping space in the car. It’s not exactly the most comfortable thing in the world, but it’s comfortable enough that I am able to actually sleep there. Being something of a picky sleeper (definitely not by choice) and given the fact that it doesn’t take much to prevent me from being able to sleep at all, this is actually pretty good compared to some of the alternatives. It also tends to somewhat reduce my chances of being eaten by a bear, something that is pretty much guaranteed to ruin the whole camping trip for everyone (especially the one being eaten by the bear.)
Anyway, I was setting up this particular sleeping arrangement in my car last night when I found that one of these crane flies had flown into the car, and had decided to hang out on the dome light. Although I am quite familiar with crane flies (for some reason, the front porch and entryway to my old apartment seemed to attract a fair number of these) and was well aware of their harmless nature, I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the prospect of spending the night with a giant insect hovering ominously overhead. The obvious solution would be to just smash the thing, but I generally don’t care much for doing so since it makes a mess (and besides, I usually don’t bring along a copy of How To Kille Insects when I go out camping.) So the next step is to try to shoo the thing out of the car, a task which turns out not be nearly as easy as it might sound. For one thing, you’re dealing with a bug with a brain roughly the size of the period at the end of this sentence, which doesn’t allow for a whole lot in terms of cognitive power. A brain of that size generally doesn’t have room for much more than some basic motor skills, a sensory organ or two, some stuff about mating, sex and egg-laying, and if there’s room left for anything else beyond that (apparently when you’re a big dumb insect whose survival strategy is comprised mostly of making zillions of babies, self-preservation instincts are optional) it usually gets wasted on something silly like attraction to bright shiny objects. Such as the dome light of a car that just happens to be out in the middle of nowhere for some odd reason. What this means to some guy with an annoyingly huge bug in his car is that the blasted thing flies erratically and really, really, REALLY doesn’t want to leave the bright shiny object it’s gotten itself attracted to. After several failed attempts to corral the fly out the door, the thing finally appeared to be gone, so I finished setting up for the evening, and a couple of hours later when I was preparing to go to bed, there were no visible bugs in the car, so I completed the evening routine and prepared to go to sleep.
Roughly 10 minutes after turning out the light, I suddenly hear an unmistakable low buzzing sound near my ear. Crane flies flap their wings more slowly than most flying insects you might be familiar with do, which creates a much lower sound than what you’d hear from a fly or a smaller insect like a gnat or a mosquito. Usually this particular buzz is quiet enough that you can’t hear it, even if the bug is relatively close to you. This, of course, means that if you CAN hear the buzzing, you’ve got a crane fly much, much closer to your ear than you really want it to be. This by itself is unnerving enough, but in the couple of milliseconds it takes your brain to process this, any touch stimulus bearing even the faintest of resemblance to that of an insect leg is probably going to be enough to set off a full-blown panic reaction. As has been outlined above, crane flies don’t really have any way to do any sort of harm to a human, but that certainly doesn’t mean that they can’t get a human to injure themselves in painful yet hilarious fashion. Not that they’re aware of any of this, of course. Tiny little insect brains don’t generally allow for much evil scheming (at least that’s what they WANT us to think…) Fortunately, in my half-awake state at this point I wasn’t exactly in a position to overthink this, and the most convenient answer to the problem at hand seemed to involve a thrown object (in this case, a pillow) in the general direction of the buzzing. Which then promptly stopped, and remained stopped, at least until I was able to get to sleep.
Upon waking up in the morning, as I began going through the set of contortions that are required to get dressed inside the car (it’s enough room to sleep in reasonably well, but with all of about three feet of headroom available in this arrangement, it’s kind of a pain to do much more than that) I found, once again, that the crane fly remained, hanging out on the ceiling next to the dome light. At this point, I had other things to worry about, so I continued dressing and after breakfast, I came back to pack up the car for the trip home, hoping it would fly out one of the open doors and decide to go do something productive with its few precious hours of adult life. I tell you, bugs these days have no ambition. Granted, some people have alleged that my car is supposed to be a chick magnet (so far, the empirical evidence seems to suggest otherwise,) but I think that’s only supposed to work on humans, right? Not that I’d know where one would go to find a cute little girl fly to settle down with for a few minutes and raise a family, but I’m pretty sure that my car is a pretty lousy place for that kind of thing. Anyway, to make an excessively long story somewhat less excessively long, by the time I finished packing stuff, the crane fly once again appeared to be gone.
As I made the 70-mile drive back to Bellevue, I forgot all about the little matter, right up until I got back home. As I was pulling into my parking space, I once again heard the ominous buzzing sound, and saw the crane fly (which had now hitchhiked its way across the mountains) flopping around over by the door. After getting parked, once again I made an attempt to shoo it out the door as I hauled my stuff out of the car and up to my apartment. Once again it disappeared, and I thought I could finally put the matter to rest. Then again, by now you probably know where this is headed… Sure enough, a couple of hours later as I headed out to run some errands, Craney McNuisance decided to start buzzing around yet again., but this time I was driving at freeway speeds, making it a particularly bad time to be dealing with this type of thing. Not having a whole lot of other options at this point I rolled down the window in the hopes that the 70 mile-per-hour wind would somehow manage to suck the thing out the window (yeah, by this time it was getting kind of personal, why do you ask?) and once again it disappeared, gone for good… Or so I thought. Sure enough, the thing managed to evade this, and at least two more attempts to shoo it out before I was finally able to get the thing to actually fly out the window in some parking lot down in Renton. By this time, I was thoroughly sick of crane flies, and ended up rolling up all the windows and parking clear on the other side of the lot just to make sure. And did a walk-around of the car when I returned just to make sure it wasn’t sitting on the door waiting to fly back in when I returned. I’m pretty sure I saw the blasted thing actually fly away now, but somehow I wouldn’t be surprised if I found it waiting there tomorrow morning…
So that’s pretty much what’s been bugging me lately. You?