Bugs: The Cure for Canadian Humble-Bragging

Dear Rest of the World,

First off, let me apologize on behalf of all Canadians. I know, that’s so cliché – a Canadian apologizing. But it’s about our “humble-bragging” and our schadenfreude. Sorry about that. We certainly spend more time than we should finding ways to bring statistics into a conversation to sing our praises. We tend to ungracefully distort the natural arc of a conversation in order to say things like, “actually, in Canada..” It’s a bit gauche of us. So, sorry for that. Of course, you can always rebut with a jibe about our winter weather. But let me give you another arrow for your quill.

It’s about bugs. Every country has them. And surely, there are a few jungles somewhere in the world that are thick with much nastier bugs. But overall, I’m guessing that, by weight, no country has more flying, biting, enthusiastically annoying insects than Canada. Canada is festooned with bugs. Relentlessly carnivorous bugs. We write songs about bugs. Our literary history is filled with stories about coping with bugs. Every Canadian has at least one legendary bug story to tell. Some days, after working on a cottage pump or cutting trees on a wooded lot, I will close my eyes in a perfectly bug-free room and find all of the bugs of the day still swarming in my vision – like some sort of waking bug nightmare! This is the thing about Canada that you need to know.

On our trip south, we experienced a few new bugs, friendly and otherwise – but nothing nearly as bothersome as we find here at home. In early September evenings in Annapolis, the sound of cicadas was almost deafening. Conversations were forced to pause during their amazing crescendos. Kath didn’t like it much. But I loved it. Like thunder or breaking waves, it was another of nature’s awe-inspiring noises.

While visiting a farm in North Carolina we were warned to not step on this spot or also over there on that spot. Fire ant nests were scattered throughout the ground. These little buggers give a nasty sting. And apparently, they mobilize quickly and in significant numbers. We never felt their wrath, I’m happy to say. But any bug that just wants to be left alone is a non-issue by comparison to Canada’s bugs.

In the Bahamas, flies were few and far between – until fish or meats appeared. Accompanying any cooked protein, house flies would arrive in droves and would be quite annoying. But these were non-biting flies, and every restaurant repelled them successfully by the simple use of chafing dish warmers. Apparently house flies really hate burning ethanol gel.

We had travelled almost 3000 miles, through a multitude of climates and ecologies including dense forests, marshlands and swampy places, and yet we never once felt inundated by insects – until we crossed back into Canada!

As soon as Spartan was nearing the dotted line that separates Canadian and American waters, the stable flies decided to send out a welcoming committee that numbered in the tens of thousands. We broke two fly swatters that day. We took on at least a full pound of weight in fly guts. They were smattered everywhere. It was disgusting.

Smaller than horse flies, stable flies look identical house flies. However, they love to bite. It’s their favourite thing. And they do so repeatedly, with just enough sting to make you flinch – every time. Over and over. Constant flinching. All day! It’s no fun! Their favourite bit is the ankle. Yummy! It’s as if they know what parts of your exposed flesh are furthest from your peripheral vision. Or perhaps they know that it’s hardest to swing a fly swatter in the narrow confines of a cockpit floor. Not fun!

The next day was similarly windless, and we travelled from Cobourg to Toronto. For the first few miles, the barn flies were not to be seen. Instead, we were inundated with what I call “the smeary flies”. More commonly, they are called midges. These ones don’t bite and they don’t have the quick reflexes of your average fly. Instead, they just land, get stepped on and leave a smeary mess. Two years previously, in the same part of the lake, my shiny white main sail was turned to a dull, spotted grey after we lowered the sail while it was covered in these bugs. We thought they’d move when the sail started dropping. Nope, they just smeared. So, this time, I had elected to keep the main sail under wraps.

A few miles later, perhaps attracted by the guts of so many smeary bugs, the stable flies returned. Instead of swatting them, I decided a bigger weapon was needed. I set up our wash-down pump and began spraying them away every 30 seconds or so. This turned out to be far more effective, but never discouraging enough to have them give up. They stayed with us for the next 10 hours and the spray nozzle never left my hand.

So, dear citizens of elsewhere, whenever a Canadian starts humble-bragging on you, just ask them about our bugs! Instead of bragging, they will tell you a legendary tale about the time they got chased out of the woods by stouts or became disoriented by black flies or fainted from mosquito bites. You will have successfully deflected their humble-bragging. However, the tale they tell will be gory!

One comment

  1. Hey Thom,
    I’m a little late leaving a reply but I have been itchy ever since I read your blog. Glad your continuing to write!


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