Montreal·Essay

Nord of the Flies

CBC/QWF writer-in-residence K.B. Thors beats the heat in the city but finds camping has its own challenges.

A camping trip goes from nature appreciation to escape mode

The picnic table is in the lake because that's the only place we could find some relief. (K.B. Thors/CBC)

This is the third in a series of blog posts by the 2020 CBC Montreal/Quebec Writers' Federation writer in residence, K.B. Thors.


Don't be fooled. The photo above is an homage to the Jaws poster, but instead of a shark looming underneath, the area is swarming with deer flies: persistent creatures whose bites draw blood. The picnic table's in the lake because that's the only place we could find some relief.

The idea was for my guy and me to beat the heat, make the most of empty weekday campsites and get out of the apartment which, since March, we'd left only for essentials: groceries, exercise, the hardware store and civic protest. It's bizarre to go from lockdown to a social demonstration, but in our culture of racial violence, a healthy white femme body is one tool I can use toward justice.

Like a lot of people, I've been frazzled lately. The pandemic and political moment make it hard to focus. Between highs and lows, priorities and moods have been swinging hard.

Montrealers are fortunate to live near abundant natural beauty, and I was grateful for the chance to get into a forest and clear my head.

2020 has the potential to be a watershed year, and I needed to recharge for the long haul of personal and social improvement.

Getting out of town

We arrived at Mont-Tremblant provincial park and immediately made our acquaintance with deer flies, whose bites proved much more hazardous than the expected mosquitoes.

In this extreme heat, the fire ban made sense, but without smoke deterring the bugs we retired early to our tent where we could look at the stars from behind the safety of a screen.

Turns out deer flies laugh in the face of DEET. In the tent we tried not to scratch bites of a sort I've never encountered: dark puncture dots that hurt as much as itched.

It was a twitchy morning as soon as we exited the tent. My bites had become welts during the night, and no matter how alert we were, new spots of blood kept appearing on our skin.

Deer flies have two sets of "mouth blades," which females use to draw blood they need to produce eggs.

As the day got hotter, we headed for the nearby beach.

Neither of us mentioned the likelihood that these predators would be worse near water. Luckily, the lake had extensive shallows. Other people at the beach had dragged picnic tables into the water, and we followed suit.

Away from the shoreline, the flies still got us, but they were manageable. My arm waves became less harried. We played chess, swam and watched people on the shore put bug-net hoodies on children.

Lac des Sables turns out to be a beautiful place to be marooned. (K.B. Thors/CBC)

After a gorgeous day on table island, we continued to get eaten alive as we walked back to camp and made dinner on the ranger-sanctioned barbecue by the park office.

Genetic disadvantage?

At this point, my system was sliding into a histamine frenzy. Visions of my Icelandic cousins going to hospital for mosquito-hives came to mind. There's a family theory that we haven't evolved to handle certain insects — deer flies are found worldwide except in Iceland, Greenland and Hawaii.

My guy was in much better shape than I, but as soon as possible we hid in the tent, played gin rummy, and tried to focus on the forest sounds.

A ranger had told us the bugs were worse on the hike we'd been considering, so the next morning we decided to chill at our lake table for another afternoon. We enjoyed a few hours of reading al fresco until, sitting up to my neck in perfect water, I realized my eyelid was swelling fast into my line of sight.

Did you know a group of butterflies is called a 'kaleidoscope?' (K.B. Thors/CBC)

We retreated to the tent, I collected my sunstroked self (my companion is built for hot climates) and, with the eye now swelling shut, made the call — we could spend another warm night hiding in our tent, or we could be back in our apartment, sans bugs and with cold things, by 11 p.m.

As Thursday quiet gave way to weekend crowds erecting tents that were larger than our bedroom — big enough to go around picnic tables and chairs — it was a no-brainer.

Driving back, we laughed at a mission accomplished. Getting overwhelmed by physical sensations is a great way to shake one's mental Etch A Sketch. We'd reconnected with nature, donated blood to local ecosystems, and wow, did we appreciate the home we'd spent all spring in.

 

About the Author

K.B. Thors

2020 CBC/Quebec Writers' Federation writer in residence

K.B. Thors is the 2020 CBC/Quebec Writers' Federation writer in residence. She is a poet, educator and translator from rural Alberta. Her debut book of poems, Vulgar Mechanics, is out now, from Coach House Books. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @kbthors

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