A Fable about Bugs

Once upon a time there lived a giant. As such fellows go, he was perfectly amiable, and if anyone nearby considered him a less than ideal neighbor, they could have done worse. Even though he had committed some altogether regrettable deeds as a younger and smaller giant, nobody seemed particularly inclined to hold it against him. After all, the local taverns, thanks to the size of his mug, and the local weavers, thanks to his abundant breeches, all found him a fantastic customer, and business is business.

One lazy afternoon, the giant found that he could not sleep. This annoyed him greatly, as recent times had been tiring. To begin with, he'd finally won a staring contest with another giant who used to live across the duck pond from him, which had stretched on for an interminable span. To make up for lost time, he'd gone on quite the buying spree afterward, and done some drinking worthy of a giant, as well. He now found that nothing seemed so pleasant as to lounge about and wait for his headache to subside. However, the mosquitoes just would not stop biting him.

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Digital cameras aren't designed for astrophotography. Thus, some tinkering with the manual settings is required. 2004:10:20 13:13:24 - 13:23:01 CDT

After some time he'd acquired a goodly number of bites, including a few particularly nasty ones right on the tip of his mountainous nose. Finally awake and itching to confront the pests, the drowsy behemoth lumbered out into the sunny afternoon, and confusedly surveyed the rolling fields he called home. Weeds had grown up and choked some very nice hedgerows in one place, while in another the brick makers by a mud pit seemed to have used up the mud and erected a shop. Moreover, everywhere he looked, paths seemed to have been beaten in the grass that he didn't remember from before. The smaller inhabitants of the green had been busily conducting their affairs during the long wait for someone to blink, a fact he might have noticed if not for his victory binge.

"No matter," he pondered, "how hard can it be to track down mosquitoes?" Already his large ears detected their high pitched whine, and only a short stroll was needed to pinpoint the source. In the midst of the field lay a dell that had obviously seen much traffic on many a day, for paths criss-crossed in every direction, along with muddy ruts from the wagon wheels of giants, and big, boggy footprints. Where this tumult converged was a small stagnant pond, really more of an oversized mud puddle, filled with hatching mosquitoes and more laying their eggs each minute.

"Here, now! This neglect is easily repaired!" exclaimed the giant, leaping with both of his enormous boots into the puddle. It splashed most satisfyingly in every direction, scattering insects, water, and all. The mosquitoes seemed little perturbed by this, but droned all the more merrily as their one big puddle became a hundred scattered ones, dousing the ruts and tracks all about. Those pests not already busy repopulating the waters immediately rose in a swarm, and feasted greedily on the banquet of giant that had so obligingly delivered itself.

Not one to let the bugs off so easily, the giant extracted his boots and proceeded to stomp furiously in ever-larger circles, smashing each rivulet and clod of mud, all the while flapping his arms wildly in an effort to ward off the biting insects. When a giant behaves thus, you can be assured a great deal of noise results, and so all the while the little residents of the fields began to gather, far enough to be safe from trampling, but close enough to see the ruckus. Had he seen things from the perspective of those closer to the ground, he might have changed his strategy. For the onlookers could see what he did not, that his stomping was only squeezing the water from the mud, and that soon he would be standing in a broad little lake, in a waterproof bed of compressed earth.

When at last the giant paused to take stock, he indeed found himself standing in far more water than when he'd begun, and being watched by all manner of little folk from a short distance. "Good giant," called one, "what ever have you been trying to do?"

"I was hoping to get rid of these foul bugs that bite me while I nap," he replied glumly.

"You'll never do it that way," another observed. Still a third complained, "now there will be enough mosquitoes to bother us as well as you!"

His neighbors continued to comment on his sorry plight. If only he'd asked them, the weavers said, they'd have shown him how to make a mosquito net for his cottage. Likewise the tavern-keepers felt sure that with enough ale, the insects could have been rendered too drunk to bite. The brickmakers, it turned out, had been waiting for the right time to dig up the mud all along. And the poor giant, standing in wet boots with bugs swarming about his head, felt altogether foolish.

The moral of this story, for those who feel that all fables should bear one, is a corruption of Mencken's law: for every complex problem, there is a solution that is obvious, satisfying, and wrong.

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This page contains a single entry by Milligan published on October 20, 2004 8:36 PM.

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