(This is a continuation of the story of our summer canoe trip. If you missed the first one, go here)
As long as I could remember, I had a fear of bugs. Not the kind of stand-on-the-chair-hold-your-skirts-and-scream-like-a-little-girl fear. No, it was a dread that went bone-deep. A loathing that made my mouth go dry.
It was a selective fear. There was no perceived danger from a few flies buzzing around. A wayward drunken moth, stumbling into my face, full of apology, a tipping of the hat and a “‘scuse me sir, lovely evening i’int?” served to merely annoy.
There was a hot summer twilight evening when my triumphant proud moment was abruptly truncated. I was in the midst of revelling in the victory of a successful navigation to the end of a long street, all downhill – with no hands – on my ten-speed bike, when I became the beneficiary of yet another valuable life lesson: I rudely learned the rule about keeping one’s damned mouth shut, especially when travelling at that rate of speed. My innocently wide-open mouth became a convenient target for a depressed mosquito who, full of mourning for a life unfulfilled, ended it all by dive-bombing into my unsuspecting maw. The resulting choking fit was a cause more for disgust than horror.
No, none of those incidents served as catalysts for my life-long fear. Near as I can recall, it came about as the result of a time when, as a very young boy, I dreamt I was in my bed, and after pulling my blankets back to get out, I discovered an entire army of bugs at the foot of the bed. Creeping, crawling, flying bugs too numerous to mention, all making a bee-line (no pun intended) for my unprotected legs. I remember screaming, though I can’t be sure if that part was in my dream, or in real life.
Anyway, it made an impression.
(I try and include at least one picture in every blog. Since the focus is so clearly something I loathe with a passion, I couldn’t very well post a picture of it, could I? And oh dear Lord there are a lot of ugly pictures of bugs. So instead I chose one guaranteed to soothe the psyche. You’re welcome.)
One evening, during my married life, we decided to have a barbeque. Only…..after our previous outdoor cookout, one of us (likely me) decided to leave the grate propped up against the wall. One of us should have taken it in and cleaned it. That was probably the intent. The horror of what happened next likely chased out all memory of the exact sequence of events from that previous evening. This befuddled detective can provide a probable narrative though: the grate was too hot to bring in, so I left it standing against the outside wall, fully intending to bring it in anon. Anon, however, had other ideas. Anon was an innocent participant frankly, as he had no idea he was afflicted with ADD. So, after leaving the grate to cool (among other things), anon – which is to say, me – found another shiny ball to occupy his attention. And after the oohing and aahing was done, anon shuffled off to bed, leaving the now-cooling – and very yummy – grate out in the open for all of nature to observe with hungry joy.
And so we come back to that grody second evening (what? It’s a word. Google it if you don’t believe me). The family was all hungry and ready to devour a rich serving of barbecued t-bone steak and potatoes.
Wife: “um, where’s the grate?”
Me (after looking around): “oh here it is.”
Wife: “well we can’t use it like that. You’ll have to clean it.”
Me (full of innocence, and without benefit of ominous organ music): “ok”
I remember it was dark outside at this point. I know this because if it had been light out, I would have realized my impending error. I would have avoided yet another indelible imprint of life-long revulsion on my tender psyche. Perhaps the terrifying incident could have been avoided if we’d had a bare wooden floor in our living room. But no. We had a multi-coloured carpet – and all of the colours were dark. I’m talking about black. And dark brown. And more black.
My daughter was in the living room with me, when I blithely brought the grate in. As I started walking toward the sink with it, she said “Dad, what’s that?”
I looked down at the grate and noticed that it seemed to be shimmering. I think my daughter might have screamed at that point. Or maybe it was me, maybe. I don’t know.
Anyway, what I thought was a living breathing grate was actually a trick of the eyes. Probably my eyes were in denial as to what was truly going on.
Bugs. It seemed like there were thousands of them. Apparently, their grasp of the grate wasn’t all that strong. So since their little fingers were unable to handle the motion of the swinging grate, they had to let go. And so they did. They dropped to the ground. But not too far. Certainly not far enough to warrant a quick death. No, they weren’t even stunned. As soon as they dropped, they all made a mad scramble for different parts of the room. We could tell, because now the fucking carpet was shimmering. We did a collective little dance of horror, as we tried in vain to stomp the little bastards to death. But we couldn’t see them. Remember the dark carpet? It was the perfect camouflage.
Filthy filthy bugs. My hated nemesis. For the rest of the ruined night I was distracted. Ever now and then I’d jump up from the chair and pounce on a part of the carpet. Maybe there was a bug there to kill, or maybe there wasn’t. I wasn’t taking any chances.
So, on the second day of our canoe trip (remember that? That’s where I was going with all of this preamble), I saw a bug. And I resented it. I thought of all of the above, and of my life-long fear of them. I was in the pup-tent, and it was in there with me. I thought “this sucks. This space belongs to me.”
And then I thought about it some more. Bugs weren’t welcome in my home. But this wasn’t my home. This home belonged to the bugs. In this place, I was the intruder, not it. So I made my grudging peace with it. As long as it did its thing and didn’t bother me too much I wouldn’t waste any energy trying to murder it. I waggled my finger at it in warning. It ignored me.
And so I quietly summed things up: aching muscles, panic at not getting to a camping spot the night before, setting things up despite the pain, and now, now, NOW….bugs. It was tempting to say “well it can’t get any worse” but I didn’t. I’m not stupid.
I didn’t talk to my daughter about the bugs. This was my angst to deal with.
We had some breakfast with our hosts, and joked with them, as they got themselves ready to canoe home. They offered us some of their coffee, which we gratefully drank. And they showed us a pretty cool device for purifying water. It involved an infrared light, which lit up brightly and then dimmed once the water was done. Angie and I looked at each, envying them. Our method involved boiling water from the lake only.
They took off in both of their canoes, and then, all too soon it was our turn to pack everything up and find a new spot to camp. We had no idea what would happen if the rangers came along and found us camping in a no-camping zone. At the very least, we’d get a tongue-lashing. Maybe even a frown or two. So, it was time to go.
With groaning muscles, I did my level best to keep up with her, and after making multiple trips to the water to fill up a pan with which to smother any burning campfire embers, we piled our stuff into the canoe and pushed off.
Thankfully, it didn’t take us very long at all to find a decent site. It was a thing of beauty. There was a large fire pit, made entirely of raised stones. And there was a cool hand-crafted wooden bench near it as well.
As we set up camp, and got the water boiling, we made a discovery. That cool wooden bench was home to an alpha hornet. (Yet another bug) It was just the one. We suspected he had some family members, but maybe they were sleeping. Or hung over. Or maybe they were out visiting friends. At any rate, we took note of the proprietary nature of his hovering. He buzzed the bench from end to end, occasionally pausing to sit down and stare up at us. It was like he was making a statement. Mostly: ‘MINE MINE MINE MINE. YOU’RE THINKING ABOUT SITTING HERE? WELL THINK AGAIN, SUNSHINE.”
Angie looked at him for a bit, lost in thought. Then she got the bug repellent out and sprayed the entire bench.
Well. It worked. Sort of. Except, now the alpha hornet was irritated. He got frantic, as it was now impossible for him to land anywhere. I swear I could hear him swearing. “You sons of bitches! You’re going to pay, m**therfu***ers!”
Being patient (and in my case, so very fearful) humans, we waited him out, by finding other things to do while he worked out his rage issues. We briefly discussed the notion of taking off our shoes and taking out a contract on him.
“Dad, that might not work. I think when they die they might give off a smell which causes the whole nest to come out”
My worst nightmare, come to life. Revenge of the hornets. Grown man and his daughter found dead from multiple hornet wounds in Algonquin Park. I calmly suggested we avoid that course of action. “Hey sweetheart. I think we can live in peace with him together.”
We looked at him, buzzing angrily around the bench. “Ok” she said.
(This post is now officially too long. Part 3 will peek its head around here shortly)