Midges are smaller than mayflies. Midges have a smaller wingspan too. Midges prefer slow-moving or standing water. Midges congregate on lights or porch ceilings.
Mayflies rely upon our Susquehanna River during these summer hatchings. Mayflies begin their lives in all variety of creeks, streams, rivers, so long as the waters remain clean, healthy, unpolluted, flowing. Mayflies signal this water is good. Their larvae grow wings underwater. After a time, these water nymphs surface and soar, ever-rising as they must from beneath the water surface up into wind and sky. What a fish buffet! Bass leaps up and snares them midair.
Water nymphs become duns, almost adult mayflies, mimicked by fly fishermen. These duns swirl and swarm in bunches, testing their wings, attracting the attention of fish below. As a concentrated fishball of herring makes easy pickings for dolphin, so too this dun mass to bass.
Three stages: Several years in water for our friend the mayfly; Second, splish splash, time to use those wings for what they were intended; last, in air now, unable to return to life beneath the water’s surface, they transform quickly into their final adult stage.
Smaller midge and larger mayfly both swarm, although the midge swarm is a stag party. The adult mayfly swarm is a co-ed affair, which makes sense because they mate while flying, which is why the adult mayfly is flying and swarming in the first place. Only when fully mature, our mayflies swarm above the water surface in what is called their courtship dance. Agile them, they mate in the air. She then lays her fertilized eggs back in the water. And is done.
After all, they only have so much time. One species of mayfly lives merely 5 minutes after becoming an adult. Mayflies even lack functional mouths. Why? Who needs a mouth? No time to eat. They don’t need to eat. They won’t last that long. Mayfly is making the most of what little time mayfly has left. Only a day or two to live.
Makes you wonder: How do you want to spend your remaining lifetime? Not as if mayflies realize they have a day or so to live. For them, it is a lifetime. A lifetime is a relative term — each day a life to make life worthwhile and leave something behind.
Which brings me to brooding about retirement. Friends and family have retired, several to luxurious gated retirement villages (those with the dollars) where they golf, play tennis, enjoy cookouts and cocktails, then play another round of golf. Okay for them. For me? Sounds awful. I tried golf. It didn’t take. A stick, a ball, a walk. Hardly a substitute for rugged old guy soccer.
We had hoped to travel more. Given this vexing virus, travel took a nosedive into a shallow pool. My wife had to postpone her trip to France. Restless me still hopes for another cross-country writing gig. I think I have one more in me. Thomas Wolfe wrote: “Men don’t leave life, life leaves them.”
What I really miss is work, contributing to something useful. One dabbles where one can. Columns, books, politics (my ballot’s a Clorox wipe), some preaching, church consultations, teaching. It’s episodic, however. Admittedly, there are parts of my trade I don’t miss. But this scion of Larry Andrews isn’t one for hobbies or dull ease — “As tho' to breathe were life!” [Tennyson’s poem, “Ulysses”]. Retirement is draining for extroverts. Extroverts get energized by others. Extroverts lack an introvert’s creative and contented self-discipline. We instead respond to, get animated by, external stimuli. We crave people juice. Without it, we shrivel. We end up watching TV reruns.
Time’s flying by. There are plenty of us who could volunteer at schools as resources willing to help teach special subject matters via Zoom. If you receive Social Security, if you’re on the working people’s dime, you’re obliged to give back to the community. No time for deafness when people are pleading for justice. No time to belly up to the buffet when all hands are needed on deck.
How do you want to spend the rest of your lifetime? Not as if mayflies realize they only have a day or so to live.
People often ponder and puzzle how they would spend their last days if they knew how few were actually left. The more interesting question might be: Why aren’t they doing right now what they could do?
The Rev. Robert Andrews is retired pastor of Grove Presbyterian Church in Danville. Read more of his work at robertjohnandrews.com.