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Bob & Jim

The Yooper Flycatcher


By Robert H. Wills



Get the picture?   


He stood at my front door after a request for help with one of my problems of daily living with limited eyesight:  How do you wash an electric blanket?


His name is Jim Okraszewski; he is a neighbor and one of my “best friends.”  And as I peered at him through the window, he was, as they say, “a sight to behold.


Let’s first discuss what Jim is not.  He is not a Rudolph Valentino, the handsome screen star of my parents’ generation, nor a Clark Gable, who made millions of women swoon in Gone with the Wind.  Nor even George Clooney, the current cinema heartthrob.


Jim is a woodsman, a forester who became a Woodlands Manager for a couple of paper mills.  And damned proud of it!  This spring he is growing a beard, which he apparently thinks will improve what God created: a questionable, and constantly questioning, physiognomy.   But his friends know he is loved, and possibly even admired, by his wife, Clare, and his pointer, Cisco.


Jim is also a product of Yale University, an Ivy League school of high repute.   How that came about is never clear – something to do with the Navy.  But suffice it to say that after he was graduated from Yale he did not get lost in nearby New York City but instead got lost in the vast forests of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.   And like a sawyer who has labored long days in the mill, he still bolts with dignity his before dinner brandy.  He is retired. 


Foresters, Jim has convinced me, have a scientific bent in their brain.   So it was that Jim learned in his reading, or his out of body adventures, that flies, those pesky bugs that have annoyed humans, horses, moose and cattle for centuries, are attracted by the color blue.   And Jim, with time on his hands and a constantly questioning mind, said to himself:  “I’m going to find out.”


So it was that he showed up on my doorstep.  Get the picture?


He was wearing his usual baseball cap that hides his bald head which, as I suggested, is all he has to work with.  So my eye, one of which works occasionally, was attracted to his right hand which was grasping a walking stick.  But it wasn’t an ordinary walking stick.  Tilting my head, I could estimate that it was about 8 feet long, of unknown linage.  Jim had removed the bark carving a handhold about two-thirds of the way up the staff.


But as might be expected, the climax came at the top.  Appended to the high end was a blue, inverted plastic cup.  With a capacity about one pint, it held nothing but the spindly staff top.


Get the picture?


Watching me squint into the late morning sun, Jim spoke: “Remember what I told you about flies being attracted to blue?  Well, it works.   They swarm around the cup which I shake sideways as I walk.   And they swarm up there, not around my head.” 


On cue, two or three flies swooped around the cup as he shook.  I stepped outside, quickly shutting the screen door.  The flies stayed with the cup.


“How do you keep the cup balanced on the stick?” I asked.


He showed me.   A brass screw reflected in the midday sun.    


He demonstrated how he moved the stick from side to side to catch the attention of any wayward insects.  Clare, he said, had ordered Tanglefoot  flypaper, once commonplace in my youth, from Amazon.com to dangle from the cup. 


Get the picture? He would be as deadly a walking flytrap as the plants of the same reputation.


I felt that I was present at the birth of one of the great inventions of my life, like being present with Edison, Bell or Marconi.  To reduce the number of flies in our immediate world would be a great accomplishment, especially with a one pint plastic cup.  It would be similar to stretching a wire between two tin cans to make a crude telephone.


The challenge would be to go from the plastic cup to a working device, probably electronic.   I envisioned a streamlined blue jet-shaped device at the top of Jim’s staff, a reminder of the many times he had helped me solve a frustrating problem. 


The great inventor lowered his ambitions enough to wash my electric blanket in my machine.   Because I did not have a line over which to dry the blanket, Jim volunteered to carry it, still wet, to his house in a plastic garbage bag.  There he could dry the blanket on his super retractable clothesline.  


Repercussions from that decision would lift the humdrum of housework to comedic levels of old-fashioned vaudeville. 


First, in searching my pantry for a garbage bag, I had come across a sealed package of dried breadcrumbs, used to make stuffing.    


 “What is the date on that?” I asked Jim.  He studied it for a minute and found “2006.”    


Knowing I would never use them, I offered them to Jim suggesting he might not want them because of their age. “Hey,” he said, “Dried breadcrumbs are dried breadcrumbs. They’ve been sealed.  Clare will use them.”


A few minutes later, Jim headed down the driveway with a black garbage bag under his arm.  From it drooped the rose colored, damp queen-sized electric blanket.  His fingers clutched the plastic sack of four-year-old crumbs in one hand and the eight foot tall pole with its blue plastic cup in the other.   Baseball cap and beard were intact.


There was a complication.   Jim had tied his pointer, Cisco, to the post supporting a 16 apartment bird house.  When he was released, Cisco dashed down the driveway remembering the scent of an otter crossing that he had passed on his way to my house.  Jim found him on the way home, rolling in what Jim bluntly called “otter crap.”


 Jim arrived too late.  By the time he saw what was happening, Cisco’s back was stained with a large blotch of otter excrement.  And it smelled; it really smelled.  Like fish.  It reminded Jim of a bit of Harry S Truman’s common sense:  “Never kick a dog turd on a hot summer day.”  It was a warm summer day Up North.   Warm enough. 


Earlier Jim had left the house in good humor, although encumbered. I couldn’t tell if he was humming “Bulldog! Bulldog! Rah! Rah! Rah! Eli Yale.”   But he should have been.   


More appropriate maybe would have been that old Depression era song, “Blue skies, smiling at me… Nothing but bluebirds all day long.”  Irving Berlin couldn’t have been happier to know that Jim was putting his lyrical color to practical usage.  


Get the picture?


All went well until Jim reached the foot of the steep hill that rose to Dan and Karen Saur’s stone lodge.  Approaching on foot down the hill was a couple of gray-haired folks Jim didn’t recognize.  


They walked silently, but with questioning glances.  Maybe they were a little frightened.  Get the picture?


Cisco, the once spotlessly white pointer now sporting an enormous smelly stain, charged forward to assure his reputation as the friendliest dog on 15 lakes.  Jim, tirelessly attempting to train him from jumping on approaching strangers, exploded with a: “CISCO!  Get back here!”  After taking the usual two or three minutes to get the pup under control, Jim slipped back into a welcoming smile.


Not realizing what an image he presented, Jim called a cheerful “Hello.”  They responded in kind.  “Nice day for a walk,” the woman responded, “but the flies are terrible!”  


That was Jim’s cue.  He was onstage, the sparkling lake a backdrop; the otter lover lying front and center, snapping at flies.


“That’s why I’m carrying my flytrap,” Jim replied. 


“I wondered what it was,” the man added dryly. 


Jim stressed the importance of the color blue, the fastening of the inverted cup and its function. 


“I’m glad you explained,” the woman said.   “I thought you were a bagman.”  (She did not explain her definition of a bagman, but one is: the person who holds the money from ill-gotten gains.  Such as a bank robber.  Surely that did not apply to Jim.)


“I am a bagman,” Jim replied.  “But that doesn’t mean I don’t know about blue plastic cups and deer flies.”


Jim climbed the hill laughing, his chuckles heard only by the flies that circled his blue cup.


The ivy at Yale has had many entanglements but few to equal the saga of the Yooper fly catcher that was about to be loosed on the Upper Peninsula by Jim as he called his friends to share the “bagman” story.


(For the uninitiated, Yooper is local slang for a resident of the Michigan Upper Peninsula.)


The UP is known for its off-the-wall stories that are a part of its lore. 


Many visitors have stood in the cold woods at night to watch the ghost of a railroad brakeman swing his lantern on a hill North of Watersmeet.


And many still search for the ruins of Summerwind, a haunted house on West Bay Lake that burned several years ago. 


Thousands have viewed the deer camp shenanigans in a movie titled Escanaba in da Moonlight.   It has few redeeming qualities. 


Was it time for the birth of a new one about the Yale bagman loose in the woods with his blue plastic flycatcher?  It has marketing possibilities, especially with the emphasis on the clear blue of the skies of the peninsula.  Or the blue of the succulent berries along its lake shores.


Centuries ago in Angor Wat, a ruin deep in the Myanmar jungle, the rulers were sheltered from the sun by tall umbrellas.  Why not attach plastic cups to sky blue parasols with eight foot handles and dangling fly catching cups as a fringe?


Or plant scientists could develop a hybrid of a wild iris, cross bred with fly catching blue blooms on six to eight foot tall stems.   A natural for the UP where wild irises thrive.  


And think of the potential of bluegill sunfish, a favorite of panfish lovers, abundant in our local lakes.   We already know that when they are discarded along the shore to decompose, they attract flies without investment in tall wood staffs, flypaper or blue plastic cups.     


Jim can work on details of these projects in his new lab that he will build at the uninhabited end of his dog kennel.   He’s the man, er, the bagman, for the job. 


Get the picture?  







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Last updated: 07/20/10.