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Friendly Ways To Shoo the Flies

When the cattle were in the pasture closest to the house we lived in on the ranch we took care of, the flies were thickest. Flies and cattle flock together, and the flies were always there in the summer in Whitney Valley in northeastern Oregon.

Though I tried to keep doors and windows adequately screened, the nature of our family, based more in love and adventure than in any concept of strict rules, meant that doors were sometimes ajar and the wrong windows - those without screens - were sometimes left open.

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The old shack of a house, which we loved better than any mansion because it sheltered us well and allowed us many freedoms, including painting the doors any color we wished, seemed to leak flies between boards in any case.

Flies laid eggs in the exposed insulation in the attic, so our best efforts only slowed down the fly population explosion indoors. We wouldn't poison our environment with insecticides, especially since our daughters were then young and idealistic (and now are much older and still idealistic), and we had no desire to crush that idealism with adult practicality.

Although Laura and I had thought for many years that people could kill pests without troubled consciences, our daughters, Juniper and Amanda, started our education over again with the innocent observation that the commandment says, ``Thou shalt not kill.'' It does not add qualifications, ``Except in the instance of....''

Within certain reasonable guidelines, which we all worked together to establish, Laura and I were and still are willing to be educated by our children.

What are children for, we reasoned, but to improve the world and all the people inhabiting it. And what better way is there to improve the world than by bringing new, more humane solutions to old problems?

Killing flies by methods other than sprays - with swatters or rolled newspapers, for example - was also proscribed. So when the flies became a nuisance because of their density in the house, we organized a fly drive, which took the cooperation of all four of us.

The house was L-shaped, with the front exit at the outside of the confluence of the two legs of the L. Simultaneously, two adults started at the farthest ends of the legs of the L. Each had one of our largest, heaviest towels - large to cover the maximum area and heavy because they shoosh through the air effectively.

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With arms spread, we waved the towels forcefully, driving air and flying insects ahead of us.

One daughter stood at the door from the back rooms and shut it when the flies were driven from that area, and one stood at the front door and shut that when most of the flies were driven from the house.

Perhaps the swallows, who lived in nests of mud under our eaves, came to recognize the shout: ``Okay, everybody, flies are too thick in here. Let's have a fly drive.''

As the flies buzzed out the front door, some of them were an easy harvest for the swallows that provided an alternative to poisons for insect control and gave part of the answer to the question, ``What are flies for?''

Sometimes, enough flies leaked back past the active towels that a second or even a third drive was called for. That was all right. Each drive took only a few minutes, gave us the opportunity to work together to solve a problem, and showed us there often are simple solutions to problems we tend to solve in complex ways.

And afterward, the inside of the house was ours again, except for frogs under the house where the pipe coming up from the well dripped; and spiders that feasted on some of the flies that strayed and stayed behind the drives; an occasional bat, cats, dogs, and sometimes a raccoon or two, who snuck onto the back porch for a snack of cat food.

And we were more than glad to share the house with all of them.

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