Zen and the Art of Midge Maintenance

Loch Lubhair in the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park by Toby Deveson. July 2012Scotland is famous for many wonderful things…

Scotland is also famous for it’s midges.

I had, of course, heard stories of their relentless attacks, always told in hushed tones. It’s fair to say that their reputation preceded them.

Yet, in my arrogance and enthusiasm I barely gave them a second thought as I glimpsed the still waters of Loch Lubhair flash by through the trees. I swerved into a carpark, grabbed my camera, a handful of film, then skipped and slid down the bank to the water’s edge, scanning the area for possible photographs.

Once there I stopped and took in the beautiful, majestic and peaceful surroundings. Until, as expected, the potential images started to appear. Clamouring for my attention, jumping up and down in my psyche….me, me, me – take me, make me real, bring me to life…I stilled myself, brought the camera to my eye and went through my routine – calm them down, tell them to form an orderly queue. Safe, obvious images first…let me take you first, then…yes yes…shhh…I’ll get to all of you…then the more experimental ones. You will all come to existence in my mind, live on in my negatives, don’t worry. Frame up, breath in the air, the atmosphere the vibes, the character of the area, bow to the local deities, mutter to the faeries, thank the sprites and release the shutter….and WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT???

Sharp, searing, burning pain, right cheekbone. Then another, back of the neck. I take my eye out of the camera, become aware of my surroundings again…and there’s a cloud over my head.

Midges.

Of course.

Every bite burnt. And they were everywhere. Down my top, up my trousers, in my ears. And I hadn’t even taken a photograph. All the potential images skulking away – they’d seen this happen before. They would watch me run back to the car, beat a hasty retreat and drive away, abandoning them to wait for the next photographer or tourist. And I nearly did.

But no.

Calm again. Zen. They are part of the surroundings. Accept them. The pain will pass. It will be worth it. Calm your mind. I’m coming for you, my potentials…OW! THERE? REALLY?? Please no, no pain there…

Try again. Regroup. Zen.

Next attempt. This time I tried running to another spot ten metres away, tried taking pictures before the swarm could catch up. It nearly worked. But they caught up – with a vengeance.

In the end there was nothing to be done.

Regroup. Breath deeply. Zen. You will get bitten. This will hurt. It will burn. You have no idea how long the pain, burn, itch will last. Just accept.

After all a midge needs to feed more than I need to take photographs…their need to torment me is hard wired into them, and the truly zen thing to do would be to accept that and allow them to feed while I take my photographs – I am the trespasser after all.

Zen – as the possible images tentatively regroup in my mind, hoping to finally come to exist on film – Zen.

And what images they became. Their stillness and beauty belying the initial fear and chaos in my mind caused by that skirmish with the midges, reflecting the true beauty of the lake. Perfect.

The memories and emotions I will always feel when I see these prints will forever contain that searing, burning, concentrated pain, and I will cherish them all the more because of that. As well as for the part I played in helping the midges maintain their population in the spectacular highlands…and their fearsome reputation around the world.

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