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Bugged Out

In the UK blossom flutters to the ground as Spring segues into Summer; ice-creams are raised to indulgent lips, trips to the seaside planned, and bared white legs and flowerbeds dazzle, the latter in glorious Technicolor. Those first snowdrops are a distant memory.

By contrast, here in southern Ontario it’s been just four weeks since our last snowfall, and while the stain of green spreads slowly across the ground many trees still raise skeletal arms to the sky. Buds are just breaking into leaf and dandelions send out exploratory squadrons to assess if conditions are ripe for mass invasion.This year’s awakening is unusually cool and damp – Canada’s national flower the Trillium has only just begun to bloom. It’s as though we’re having difficulty shrugging off the legacy of the devastating ice-storm that encased us overnight, Marvel-comic style in December, plunging the province into frigid darkness as thousands were left without power days before Christmas.

Its cruelty is still evident all around in beaten and broken trees, a rubble of lifeless arboreal limbs littering the ground beneath them – decades-old stalwarts felled by a force capable of sustaining life or taking it.

Spring is our shortest season, I suppose because it starts in places hidden from human eyes. Every year the sound of gushing snowmelt building to a crescendo in the storm drains below us heralds the quickening of the climactic pulse. By then the season is already well underway.

Next month temperatures will climb through the twenties, extreme heat alerts will be issued and car seats will burn the backs of legs; but right now we’re enduring Nature’s final test, the last obstacle between us and a summer of heat, humidity and storm-washed skies:
Little. Black. Flies

Actually, make that Randy Little Black Flies.

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Before you laugh, don’t underestimate the power of an insect to cause misery, after all the humble mosquito kills more people than any other creature on the planet. Not in the same league but no less annoying, here on the lakeshore we’re currently bombarded by clouds of chironomids, or non-biting midges. Largely invisible they gather in shafts of sunlight or over patches of distinctive ground, cunningly at head-height, ready to enfold the unsuspecting pedestrian in a blanket of itchy insect disgustingness.

The maddening masses are females waiting for some action in the form of an obliging male. While they’re a great food source for fish they’re not good news for humans. They get caught in hair, sniffed up noses and stuck in throats. Climbing temperatures mean it’s possible to take my running outdoors again and frantically thrashing through the flies with windmilling arms takes care of the upper body workout. Even when you do manage to stay alert and swerve to avoid them there’s none of the heroism gleaned from a brush with a skunk or coyote. “I made it home without getting mobbed by flies” just doesn’t carry the same kudos.

Eyes screwed up against the sun, sweeping empty space for that faintly visible moving mass of dots, it’s not long before you start to see swarms where there aren’t any. Is that really something or am I just straining so hard I can see the air molecules move?

What they lack in size they make up for in numbers and even though they don’t bite, with an astounding four thousand larvae to a square metre you can get thousands emerging in a concentrated area at the same time. This is the original ‘flash-mob’, and once you’ve been ambushed erroneous itches plague you for the rest of the day.

Swarms blanket walls, railings and the shaded sides of light-poles, resting in cool patches while the midday heat subsides. The previously invisible winter cobwebs gracing my porch are now a major eyesore, festooned with hundreds of macabre little black corpses reminding me of the scene in ‘Shrek’ where the titular hero winds a mass of bug-laden cobwebs onto a stick in an ogre parody of candy-floss.

“You must be Charlotte” one prospective sales rep quipped when I answered the door. Nonplussed, I stared at him until he pointed to the tangle of web fanning out across the door frame just above his head and said, “…and that’s your web.” Eat your heart out E.B. White!

A couple more weeks and they’ll be gone – just in time to stop me getting a buzzcut.

by Aisha Ashraf.

Aisha Isabel Ashraf is a freelance writer and author of the popular blog EXPATLOG – a collection of irreverent observations from her experiences as a "cultural chameleon". It's where you'll find her, strung out on caffeine, humorously dissecting the peculiarities of expat life for her own amusement and the benefit of future generations."

She can be contacted via the usual avenues (e-mail, Twitter, Facebook) – just swing by the blog for directions.

Read Aisha's other Expat Focus articles here or click the button below to view her own blog…

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