“How were the bugs?” I was asked. “Pretty unhappy I should think given how many of them I killed.” I answered. “And frustrated too, given the excellent defense the repellent offered.”
“Don’t you mind being in the woods alone?” Someone else asked. “My dear, you are never alone in these woods. There’s the loons, and the deer and the woodpeckers and then all the stuff you don’t see but you know is there, like the bears and the coyotes. And then there’s the blackflies.” Always the blackflies. Millions of blackflies.
Oh my God, the blackflies. While paddling they were always with me; even in the wind they’d fly behind my back like so many small cars catching the low pressure tow behind a transport truck. June is the worse month for blackflies and this year they were worse than ever.
I’m pretty good at handling flies. They really only bother me when they bite and maintaining a thick coating of Deet juice on my exposed parts kept them from getting too personal. A stiff Westerly wind blowing down through the campsite all day was also a big help but as soon as the wind dropped they swarmed like 1983 mothers around a box of Cabbage Patch dolls.
When I chose my camping attire I forgot how much flies love the colour blue – they made a beeline for my blue-jeans the minute I exited the car and there are probably a few yet trying to find their way out of my pockets. (I wonder how their liking for blue evolved given there are so few blue animals. The only example I can think of right now is a cookie monster.) I spent enough time with them to develop a fascination and when I took a break from paddling I watched them more closely. They had an air of desperation about them, like I was their last and only hope. They crawled almost blindly over my pants, bumping into and crawling over each other while poking and prodding to find a repellent free patch of skin or a small hole in the fabric through which they could poke their teeny tiny toothed stylets. When paddling necessitated that I turn out of the wind, they dropped like paratroopers onto my arms, my chest and my cheeks. (that’s the chubby parts of my face, folks, my face-cheeks) Blackflies don’t like the dark so therefore they never went very far up my nose or too deeply into my ears. Eureka, that must be what ear-hair is for!! Some flies, like Friday night revellers at a pub, lined up to drink the sweet nectar from the corners of my eyes until they were evicted by my gloved hand, which I was loath to do because I can’t bear to have that sour neoprene smell so close to my nose. Where were all the bats and barn-swallows when I needed them? Oh right, the bats are all dead and I’m wilderness camping. No barns. Just blackflies.
The blackflies disappearance after dark overlapped with the arrival of the mosquitoes. (We called them nippers in Newfoundland) I ask you, do mosquitoes work on the clock? Do they shake hands with the day shift of blackflies as they pass in the gloaming on their way to punch their little time-clocks and park their lunch pails before they go out in search of fresh blood? Wait, they don’t carry pails because I am their lunch.
The curmudgeon in me says, as I smear on another thick layer of Deep Woods Off, that mosquitoes are all employed by the repellent companies to be extra aggressive to force us to buy more fly dope. Well I hope they get danger pay because I got pretty good at taking them down seconds before their little feet made land-fall. (They don’t really have feet but have setae at the end of their tarsuses. Or is that tarsi?) Some mosquitoes have specialized jobs. There is the outhouse mosquito who primarily works alone and the kamikaze mosquitoes who are trained to dive-bomb only when you have a pot of boiling hot water in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Sometimes it’s worth the risk of third degree burns to take the little critter out. Others are trained to recognize a bared ankle or the removal of a hat from a thousand paces. You really do have to admire their skill and tenacity. I’d tip my hat to them but I wouldn’t want to disturb the blackflies. .
“So why ever do you go? Why would you torture yourself like that?” they ask. Here’s why in point form:
• paddling and camping slows my busy mind and keeps me in the moment.
• I like being completely self-reliant.
• It keeps me out of the thrift stores where I buy random decorative stuff I don’t need. Nature needs no further decoration.
• All those blues and greens are so darned beautiful.
• I love to listen to the dawn chorus although it is better later in the fall when birds get up at a more reasonable hour.
• It is healthy to face your fears every now and again.
• Propelling a vessel down a slow lazy river is pure poetry.
• These trips makes me really appreciate how good life is when there are no blackflies, or mosquitoes, or ticks. Did I mention that I am afraid of ticks?
Here’s looking forward to new summer adventures. Sláinte.
© Judy Parsons 2019