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The Little Gnat

Written while living at Christies Beach (c. 1986-1987)

One day, I was treating myself to a luxurious lunch of thick wholemeal bread, cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, corn relish, jam, etc. As I came to butter and prepare a slice of bread, I noticed a little gnat walking slowly down the index finger of my right hand.

After taking a close look at the gnat, and feeling that it was extremely vulnerable, I thought I should try to remove it from my finger. I tried to blow it off. The little gnat held firm, and seemed to hold on shivering, defiantly. I shook my hand, and flicked it in different ways, but the little gnat held firm, appearing to be completely unperturbed. Then I tried to poke around near it, to try to frighten it away. But no, the gnat was not alarmed by the huge finger poking around near it, and seemed to just continue on its own as best it could. I tried to blow it off again, but the little gnat seemed to be very stubborn, and wasn’t dislodged – no good!

The gnat then started walking around my finger, towards the valley between my index and middle fingers. It didn’t seem frightened or cautious, but then, why should it be? The world must be so different for such a small creature. How small its eyes must be! I moved my fingers closer together, thinking I might get a reaction – it might get agitated by the lack of clear space, and move away from the area between my fingers. But no, it didn’t seem to mind at all! It kept on going, and when within reach of it, moved its hold to the other finger. I was wishing that it would just go, but it didn’t, so I resumed my lunch, being careful to keep my right hand, with its little rider, away from the food.

When I next checked on the little gnat, it had gone across to my next finger. I put that finger next to the table cloth in the hope that the gnat would step onto the cloth as if continuing onto another finger. But it didn’t move off my finger. Ah well, maybe it likes the warmth of my skin, or something similar, and just likes being on my hand. I thought no more of it for a while while I continued my lunch.

Then next I knew of it, the gnat was standing on the top exposed surface of the margarine. It looked caught. I quickly checked my hand to see if the original gnat was still there – but it wasn’t, and the one in the margarine was likely to be the same one that had been on my hand. I was angry with the gnat for being so stupid – the oil in the margarine would probably hold it trapped. But I realised that I couldn’t blame the poor little insect; it wouldn’t know what margarine was, until it experienced it the hard way.

I looked closely and thought that it looked stuck, so I cleaned my knife and proceeded to try and see if I could help the gnat get clear of the margarine’s grip – it isn’t the sort of thing one wants in their margarine anyhow!

As I looked closely, everything looked enlarged. The gnat looked extremely vulnerable. The knife in my hand seemed to be waving around uncontrollably. The next thing I knew was that I accidentally touched the surface of the margarine, and then in the same action, the little gnat’s wing. In touching the surface of the margarine with my knife, a small smear of margarine was transferred onto the wing of the tiny gnat. I pulled the knife away slowly, hoping to drag as much margarine off the gnat’s wing as was possible. The whole insect came up off the margarine with ease, making me realise that the gnat probably wasn’t stuck as I had thought in the first place. If only I had kept out of trying to help the gnat, there wouldn’t have been a problem!

The gnat was now held to the tip of my knife by its wing. I moved my finger tip up next to the gnat, in the hope that it would grab on, while I tried again to dislodge it. The first attempt failed. The second, third and fourth attempts also failed. The gnat looked like it was consciously helping by holding on to my finger tip and bracing itself as best it could. It looked somehow heroic, somehow raw and strong. I was impressed with its efforts. Eventually, it held firm to my finger, and I managed to draw the knife away, slowly enough and surely enough from the little gnat’s wing.

When it was finally free of the knife, the gnat still had margarine stuck to its wing, and also now had some on its body and legs. The margarine was spreading like a horrible disease. The gnat moved clumsily about, its wings looking dislocated.

It staggered around slowly, and I thought about what had happened. I felt responsible. The whole environment of lunch goodies, plates, knives, etc., was no place for such an animal.

I couldn’t help but feel that the gnat depended on me, and everyone else, to make sure it didn’t come to needless harm. The little gnat felt innocent and vulnerable and was harmed by my foolish attempt to fix its situation. In many ways, the gnat was better off if I wasn’t aware of it.

This little episode felt symbolic of having all free animals on this planet, wandering about in a world dominated and largely controlled by human beings. Without knowing it, all these animals depend on human management for their survival. The only thing is, I don’t think there is much management going on – mainly just pillage, and a few pathetic attempts, like mine!

A dragonfly in our garden

Yes, this is a dragonfly rather than a gnat, but I was happy to get this photograph, in our garden, and it does illustrate the fragility of many flying insects.

Writing - Separate pages