This summer, pest-wise, began normally enough — that is, the bug-to-human ratio reached several gazillions to one as soon as the leaves emerged.
The summer of 2012 looked like it would be a repeat of the previous summer.
In 2011 mosquitoes, blackflies, deerflies, horseflies and no-see-ums swarmed so thickly for so long that only frequent Deet-baths could keep them, their stings and their jaws as far away as possible — which was never very far.
Last year in the woods and towns around central Labrador, as in most years in all parts of Labrador, you had to ignore the thick and vicious clouds of blood-sucking insects or they could drive you mad with their persistent, malicious buzzing and with their ravenous desire to drain your veins dry.
That’s not unusual. All was normal with bugs all the time. Blackflies, deerflies and horseflies came out during the day and mosquitoes and no-see-ums at night, usually.
At certain hours you had them all at once, like in the early evening when your presence makes it suppertime for everyone.
Annoying, yes, but that’s how it’s supposed to be.
That’s how it started this year, but that’s not how the year continued.
One day, almost all the nuisance insects were gone.
There’s been a few scattered blackflies that have appeared since August, but few signs of mosquitoes and none of the bigger or smaller biting bugs.
It seems unnatural to be able to stand outside, skin devoid of any insect repellent, with no buzzing and no need to swat at anything trying to eat you — not just in town, but out in the woods, as well.
That just doesn’t seem like Labrador at all, but Labrador it is, so natural it better be if it’s not a strange portent of stranger things to come.
Lightning has been blamed for killing the large horseflies and deerflies. Stories passed along from older folk say that a thunderstorm can sometimes wipe them all out as it passes, although they don’t say exactly how that happens. One pictures them electrocuted in flight, exploded by wild bolts of electricity, or fried as they try to hide from the deadly currents.
Whatever the details, one thing is clear: one night there was a huge storm and the next day all the stouts were gone for good.
As for what got rid of the smaller pests at about the same time, that’s harder to know. Some speculate that maybe the summer was just too hot and dry, but they don’t even convince themselves.
“It’s weird,” they say.
In truth, no one is mourning the insects, and why should they? Usually Labradorians get a week or two between summer and snow to enjoy the region’s awesome outdoors without being slathered with bug juice or muffled in heavy clothing. This year, those few days became a few weeks — stretching over two months already.
How could anyone wish such lovely bug-free weather to go away? It’s a good thing and everyone enjoys it while they can.
But this is Labrador, where every silver lining has a dark cloud. Nice to have no bugs, yes, but how are we going to pay for it? The questions won’t go away. Where did they all go? Will it happen again? And what about the other animals that depend on the multitudinous insects for their food? How are they doing this season?
But the biggest question is about how these events fit in with all the other strange environmental phenomena that are occurring with greater frequency every year. Is the disappearance of the bugs a natural but isolated event that will leave a few birds and toads a bit hungry, but not have any other lasting effects? Or is it yet another worrisome symptom that points to greater underlying changes?
Unfortunately, the only thing to do is to wait and see what happens next. Winter is coming, but will it be a normal winter? Will it be warm with no snow, or cold with far too much? Will spring come on time and will it be full of vibrant new life? Or will it be just a little more quiet than it should be?
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.