The Village Idiot: Persistence Pays

By John Hopkins

We are a persistent and stubborn species, especially those of us who live in Canada. We will tolerate almost any sort of discomfort to take pleasure from our environment and we will see the positive in any season, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Bitter cold and eternal darkness in winter? No problem, we invented sports like hockey and curling and ice fishing to help while away the days. We hold winter carnivals and snowfests to give the impression that we actually look forward to the months of January and February.

In fall, as the days grow shorter and cooler and the cottage gets closed up, we delight in the spectacular fall colours and even manage to entice logical, clear-thinking tourists from other countries to come and “enjoy” them with us.

When it comes to living in Canada, it definitely pays to have a “beer bottle half full” outlook on life.

This positive view comes through very clearly in the months of May and June. On those first warm and sunny days when cottages are opening up, barbecues are fired up and lawnmowers are gassed up, the blackflies also make their first appearance. And they don’t come in just ones or twos, they arrive in swarms that envelope your head and pester you incessantly.

If mosquitoes are the overt bullies of the Canadian summer playground, blackflies are the surreptitious silent assassins. Mosquitoes will buzz noisily and sting when they make their attack. But with blackflies, even though you know they are there, you don’t actually feel their wrath until you are safely ensconced back indoors and suddenly detect the itchy bumps on your neck, head and other exposed areas, evidence of their assault.

There is a kind of sick, creepy intelligence to blackflies. I swear one day after I had finished mowing the lawn I heard a swarm of them snickering behind me. It turns out they had tattooed the words “Bite Me” on the back of my neck.

But as much as we complain about blackflies, as much discomfort they bring us, we refuse to give in and go back inside. We will stubbornly lounge outside, cook our meat on an open fire and cut our grass while we are tormented by these tiny black pests.

As with our other seasons, we will put a happy face on anything to derive some enjoyment out of it. And we are certainly not going to let swarms of annoying black biters spoil our short summer. We will endure all manner of discomfort if it is accompanied by sunshine and warmth.

Indeed, we carry those itchy, red welts that blackflies leave behind as a kind of trophy from our early summer weekends. Walk into any workplace on the Tuesday following the Victoria Day long weekend and you may see co-workers comparing the bumps on the back of their necks.

“Hey, you sure got eaten up, you must have had quite the weekend.”

“Yeah, I was outside the whole time, it was fabulous. You think my neck’s bad, you should see what the little buggers did to my back. It was awesome.”

One can imagine the reaction of our pioneer predecessors when confronted with the joy of blackflies in their first year of settlement in their new home. After finding out that the fabulous acreage the British government had given them for an unbelievably good deal consisted mostly of rocks, after surviving a bitterly cold and dark winter, they must have found the arrival of blackfly season a cruel and unusual joke. 

Imagine the poor pioneer farmer in his first May in Hastings County, enjoying some sun and warmth and finally finding some redeeming qualities to his new home. Suddenly the first swarm of blackflies attacks him. “Really?” he asks as he looks heavenward in desperation. “I left England for this?”

But to his credit, our noble settler did not give up. He didn’t pack up his family and meager possessions and trek back to Kingston or Montreal and try to find passage back across the Atlantic. No, he stuck it out, and he created things like beer and barbecues and screened-in porches to help alleviate the discomfort brought on by his newfound antagonists. And he learned that the experience of dealing with the blackflies prepared him well for the mosquitoes that would follow.

And that resilience spread to other aspects of his life. He gradually dug the rocks out of his farmland so that he could finally grow something in the summer; he discovered that the leaves turned pretty neat colours in the fall and that helped him forget about the shorter days and cooler weather; and in the winter he and his friends found they could actually have some fun outside on the frozen lakes or rivers whacking a piece of galvanized rubber with wooden sticks, or sliding rocks from one end of a playing area to the other.

That positive spirit has carried on to each succeeding generation, and it is worth remembering as we deal with life’s little irritations each season.