Me vs the Blackfly

Blackfly season has officially arrived. I’m going to look into some homemade insect repellant instructions, although to be perfectly honest, it’s not likely that I’ll actually make any of them. Too many other things on the go. But I need something — got a few bites during lawnmowing on Sunday, and Bridget has a swollen ear from playing outside and being bitten. Rotten little buggers . . . When they’re not actually feasting on flesh, they’re swarming and getting into ears and eyes and noses . . . I think I even swallowed one while I was pushing the mower, although it might have only been a bit of flying grass. Still — ick!

 

 The long, cool spring has likely set us up for a bumper season of flying annoyances. It helps me to keep in mind the relative weaknesses of these tiny torturers:

  • They don’t bite indoors, so even if one or two make their way in on clothing or animal fur, they’re not to be concerned about.
  • They can be defeated by a heat wave of several days at the end of May and into July.
  • They don’t bite (a lot) in bright sun, preferring to party in shady areas. They don’t much like nighttime, either.
  • They don’t like light-coloured clothing.

Unfortunately, the microscopic Achilles’ heel of the blackfly means compromising enjoyment of summertime, even the safety of it. Who wants to spend every day indoors when the sun is shining? And we know that it’s better to avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, so stick to the shade, but that gets frustrating when lurking in the shade are hundreds or thousands of voracious little pregnant female bugs waiting for a mouthful of blood to nourish the next generation.

Huh. That sounds awfully familiar . . .

Nope. Blackflies don’t bite indoors, remember? And while a space suit might help to prevent the damned biting, it’s not the most comfortable way to spend a summer.

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It seems to me that the best thing to do is to wear the long-sleeved white clothing, sealing bare flesh away from the bugs as well as harmful UV rays. But doing that means missing out on the lovely pleasure of feeling the sun after a long winter, and cuts on the vitamin D. Everything in moderation, I suppose. I just don’t relish getting sweaty under long sleeves and pant legs with tight elastics, even if they’re light fabrics. The other option is slathering the exposed skin with stinky lotions, chemical or natural.

IMG_1479Here’s the thing, though: I’m the kind of person that blackflies find deeelicious. I am a moveable feast. In the past, I ‘ve resorted to swathing a straw hat with a length white tulle, and then draping that around my face and neck, in an effort to protect myself — the hat being more aesthetically pleasing than your typical camping hat. Because I honestly get made fun of when I wear a regular camping-style net hat outside for walks or garden work, and I’m sick of that. I do try to suck it up and just go along, but quite frankly, I’d rather go without the bites and the swelling and the itching.

IMG_1480 Such a lot of bother to be able to spend some time outside. At least the good news is that a rise in blackflies means we have lots of clean water around. Yaaaaay . . .

We have to choose our poison, I guess. The weapon of choice. I have lawn maintenance and a garden to tend, once I actually get my veggies and herbs in the ground (hoping I haven’t missed out on the best selection at my favourite gardening and landscaping growers), so I’m going to have to suck it up, especially when the next wave starts up.

That’s right. The blackflies may be in full swing, but the mosquitoes have barely begun to swarm.

Welcome to summer! Having written this, I think I might just go back to my Victorian-style, romantic straw hat-and-tulle, look. Might as well go back to my own sense of style — if I’m going to be bug-proof, I shall do it with flair. And I’ll have to invest in the clothing — maybe some romantic long swingy harem pants or maxi skirts with kneesocks to change things up. And the good news is that I’ll definitely reduce the risk of getting sunburns (and the potential risk of developing skin cancer later on) with all of this gear . . .

My Mortal Enemy

The ritual begins at bedtime, in the early summer. 

As soon as the sun approaches the western horizon, the unscreened windows are shut tight, and suspected cracks, stuffed with cloth, are inspected for the tiniest of openings.

Food is served, but we eat while alert, bodies tensed and eyes shifting toward shadowed corners. Small flickers of movement are suspect. Wisps of breeze stirring the light hairs on the arms and backs of necks induce rapid twisting of the torso and swiping at the air.

Nerves are already tingling, raised swellings and pin-sized gouges itching incessantly at the thought of another imminent attack.

Is the whine in my ear imaginary? Or is the tell-tale song of the enemy already inflicting itself upon my senses?

The remains of previous battles still dot our walls in various places — corners too high for the mop to reach, out-of-the-way places where our eyes rarely rove — carcasses forever glued to the drywall with their own innards, petrified trophies of the victory of human over insect.

They dance on the air currents, taunting. Swatters are useless against their fairy-like grace. Our vision struggles to focus on tiny bodies silhouetted against the light, depth perception flawed by poor illumination, or tension, or frustration. 

If I move fast enough, I can catch my tormentor in my hand. I can snatch it from its uneven flight, burying it in my clenched flesh, and hope that with enough grinding friction, it will be torn or squashed enough to end its existence. But the sneaky bastard tends to be flexible and soft, nestling into the folds of my curving fingers, ready to wisp free as soon as I extend my fingers again. My reflexes are rarely quick enough to catch the thing on its escape, and I am forced to start over, hunting even as I am hunted. 

How many will have entered the house tonight? Every time I think we have killed all of the interlopers, I am called back to my child’s bedroom to seek and destroy the next. Every time I start to relax, my hackles rise before I’m quite aware of the presence of the mosquito in my space. 

I welcome spiders in my home. I invite moths to my garden, and bats are my comfort. I am grateful that blackflies don’t bite indoors, and that deer flies and horseflies are rare for those of us who live in town. But mosquitoes have always been the bane of my summer. I’m not one of the lucky ones to whom mosquitoes are not attracted, nor am I one of those who can take a bite without much reaction. I itch, and I swell. My children, too. It seems that my allergy has abated somewhat since I was small, because the swelling is much less than I recall, but the relentless irritation of the skin continues for days after the original bite. Calamine, Polysporin, Benadryl — nothing helps, or for very long. It is something I’ve learned to live with. 

I am grateful I don’t have to worry about my mosquitoes carrying dangerous fevers or malarial infections. I am hopeful that West Nile will never show up in this part of the world. I am thankful that our mosquito season is relatively short. But the frustration and tension remain, night after night. 

Here’s hoping for a pleasant sleep…