Al Batt: If something bites you and there’s nothing there, it’s fall

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

It was too dark too early too soon.

Pumpkin spice lurked in a dark alley where hoodies make people look like walking chrysalises.

Al Batt

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September is a handy place to start fall. Autumn means it’s not winter yet, butterfly wings are tattered and the pickleball fantasy league comes to a screeching halt.

I can see the seasons change in the birds. They’re wearing their work clothing with little need for gaudiness. Birds might travel a bit more leisurely with more wandering as they lack the urgency they had during the spring migration. What I don’t hear is infinite. The departure of summer birds and their singing seems abrupt. Most songbirds no longer need to be heard. Even the grackle, a name with an edge to it and an abrasive voice to match, is quiet.

It’s soup season and trees ignited by the fall act as new window views. Those same trees declutter by dropping those colorful leaves. “Watch for deer,” becomes another way of saying “I love you.”

Fall is a time of jacket uncertainty. A good rule is to always take a jacket. Mom’s rules rule and make everything sweeter and sweater. Fall is the time of the migration of geese and geezers. The woolly bear caterpillar wears a parka and claims its wide rusty band means a mild winter. The more black there is on it, the more severe the winter. If a woolly worm borrows a tool, it’ll be rusty by the time it’s returned. If you see a polar bear in your shower this fall, it’s a sure sign a tough winter is coming.

Fall is when coyotes are on a conference call of the wild, kids make hand turkeys at school and lopsided pumpkins smile happily.

I ambled along as I puttered around the yard when I was bitten by a grizzly. I think it was a grizzly, but I can’t be certain because I didn’t see it.

What bit me was nearly invisible. I call them no-see-ums. They aren’t the familiar black flies (buffalo gnats or turkey gnats) that bite us in the spring and early summer. Insects that are difficult to see are often called “no-see-ums.” During fall (September and October), I am bitten by tiny minute pirate bugs also known as insidious flower bugs. They are tiny (1/12 to 1/5-inch long), smaller than a grizzly, flat and oval, and black with an X pattern across the back. They actively irritate me on warm, sunny days. Minute pirate bugs are common in agricultural fields, especially soybean where they are outstanding in their field by feeding on soybean aphids. Minute pirate bugs are beneficial predators feeding on small insects and their eggs in the summer, and providing a valuable pest control service in fields, gardens and woodlands. In the fall, as these crops are harvested, minute pirate bugs move out of the fields. If they land on people, they either bite in defense, are looking for a food source or have decided to eat healthy. They aren’t blood feeders and I wish they’d order a pizza and leave me alone. They bite way out of their weight class. The bite is incredibly painful for something with “minute” in its name. Insect repellents don’t seem to affect them, but I think vanilla extract works for me and thinking so is half the battle. The minute pirate bugs pose no health threat, but an over-the-counter antihistamine cream should tackle any itchy welts and the bugs should go away with a hard frost. I can’t say the same thing for the invisible grizzlies.

I’m happy that the lovely, big dragonflies I see swarming now don’t bite me. The common green darner is a large dragonfly, up to 3 inches in length and “darner” reflects the folklore that dragonflies were devil’s darning needles and would sew together the lips of foul-mouthed men, critical women and naughty children. The darners are acrobatic flyers, voracious predators of other insects and many migrate south. Other dragonfly nicknames include “snake doctor” in the belief dragonflies carried medicine to cure snake bites or heal injured snakes. They are called “mosquito hawks” because of their appetite for mosquitoes.

I know it’s fall. I saw a hooded sweatshirt blow by the window.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.