Su Lum: Twittering Yidjits

When I got back from Redstone a few weeks ago, the windshield of my Beetle was plastered with insect splats, reminding me of a time over 40 years ago when it was absolutely raining bugs.

It was day eight or nine of what turned out to be a 29-day journey from New Jersey to Alaska, hauling two dogs, a cat and all of Burt’s and my most precious possessions with our brand-new 1961 Dodge Power Wagon, pulling an old 33-foot house trailer that was not built for long-distance travel.

After 10 hours of grinding up hills and fishtailing down them, we stopped in a secluded woodsy grove on the banks of the Mississippi River just outside of St. Paul, Minn.

It was early evening and we jumped out of the Dodge to start the nightly chores that were now routine: feed the animals, let the cat out, rustle up something to eat, pop the beers, level the trailer, and we were in the midst of that when it began to rain strange insects.

We had never seen bugs like these. They were about 2 1/2 inches long, with two short antennae

on their heads, slender bodies with large, webbed wings, and two long appendages giving the appearance of legs.

When they hit the ground they were either already dead or

dying, fluttering as they expired. Burt called them Twittering Yidjits.

At first it was like a light rain, a pitter patter of Twittering Yidjits falling from the sky, and we stood outside watching in astonishment, but then it began to pour. Retreating inside to the trailer window we saw the air grow dark with Yidjits, which swarmed in the sky as far and as high as you could see and then falling, falling, falling like soft, brown snowflakes.

The blizzard of yidjits went on for hours. Other than the Alaskan earthquake, and a spectacular multicolored Northern Lights show that burst into the sky one night in Vermont, I have never seen such a display of nature.

The next morning, half-thinking that we had had some kind of mutual hallucination, we opened the door of the trailer to find clear, blue skies and the ground completely covered, as if a sudden midsummer autumn had caused all the trees to shed their leaves, with the drying corpses of Twittering Yidgets.

I Scotch-taped a couple of the bodies into my journal, but it wasn’t until many years later that I found out that we had stumbled upon and witnessed a mayfly orgy.

Don’t expect a scientific explanation, but apparently these Yidjits gestate underground in some kind of larval state and all of a sudden, all at once, they emerge as the full-grown specimens we saw, fly up in the air, copulate madly and then die.

That’s their life. No child-rearing, no responsibilities, exciting while it lasts, and certainly efficient: They get right to the point and then, bang, it’s over.

We never did see any of them come up, only down. Maybe they rise out of the Mississippi mud.

I wouldn’t be surprised if mayfly aficionados make treks across the country and camp out on riverbanks in hopes of seeing the event we accidentally stumbled upon. I know I never forgot it.

[Su Lum is a longtime local who was awed. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.]


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