Tag Archives: Port Shoreham

Welcome back, bug brain

Some bugs don’t know when to quit.

Almost nothing survives a Guysborough winter more buoyantly than the Armadillidium vulgare, otherwise known as the common woodlouse. You might also know it as the sow bug, pill bug or potato bug. My 81-year-old cousin refers to it and its buddies by a more generally descriptive term: “those little bastards”.

Every year at about this time, the population of Port Shoreham – a cartographic afterthought located halfway between Boylston and Saint Francis Harbour along provincial Route 344 – almost doubles as the Bruce clan and associated relatives arrive in cars and caravans to alight, for a weekend, at the old family homestead.

Theoretically, we come to celebrate the springtime, seasonal opening of the “the place” – a putatively festive moment that heralds the onset of reasonably decent weather for the first time in half-a-year or longer.

Still, those of us who’ve participated in this ritual for what seems like decades know better. Practically, we descend from our respective abodes in civilization, where the wifi never wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, to fight the “pitched battle of the bug”. (And of the occasional mouse, bat and some type of vermin none of us have ever seen before. But, I digress).

It’s the bugs that, above all, bug my cousin.

“Did you remember to have the electricity switched on?” she’ll inquire dubiously as we climb the front steps. “We’re going to need every vacuum humming, by gum,” she’ll declare before muttering, “those little bastards.”

I’ve never understood exactly what she’s got against the lowly woodlouse. According to the literature, nothing in Creation could be more benign. Even professional exterminators leave them alone.

“Besides living in the soil of houseplants, these pests cause little damage,” Orkin’s website helpfully informs. “In general, sow bugs are simply a nuisance, as they do not bite or sting and are harmless to humans. Their presence inside usually indicates a large population outside.”

In fact, if you must rid yourself of them, one article published way back in 1990 offers the following tips: “Tobacco water, the color of strong tea, usually works . . . Another home remedy consists of one tablespoon of cayenne pepper, two tablespoons of household detergent added to a gallon of water. Spray this in the area, or drench infested places.” The writer also advises deploying “one quart of rubbing alcohol”.

On such weekends, when I used to drink, I would cart a large tumbler of gin, a big yellow pad of paper and a fat pencil to the woodshed where I would commence to “write”. In no time, a call would sound upon the wind. “Hey Alec,” a bug-brained relative, Hoover in hand, would cry from the kitchen door. “Are you coming? We’ve got work to do in here.”

I would reply, “I am working”, and then return to my musings about, among other things, why geniuses are never truly appreciated in their lifetimes.

Now that I don’t (drink, that is), I imagine I will resort to more sober reflections on the morality of assassinating our creepy-crawly friends. “Hark well,” I will begin. “As the immortal German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once archly commented, ‘any foolish boy can stamp on a beetle, but all the professors in the world cannot make a beetle.’ Or as the immortal guitar-rock hero Mark Knopfler once wisely observed, ‘Sometimes you’re the windshield. Sometimes your the bug.’”

Oddly enough, my cousin and the Orkin man do agree on one thing: potato bugs belong outside or in a vacuum trap – whichever gets to them first.

Now, if we’re talking about the dreaded Simulium trifasciatum (black fly) or the wretched Culex pipiens (mosquito) in Port Shoreham’s merry month of May, that’s a whole other story. And don’t get me going on July’s brutal Tabanus sulcifrons (horse fly) and August’s equally nasty Chrysops callidus (deer fly), both of which roam the Chedabucto shoreline like muggers on a summer rampage.

Indeed, some Guysborough bugs just don’t know when to quit.

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Ode to a summertime moment

Beyond the headland, off to meet the horizon

Beyond the headland, off to meet the horizon

The view from the base of the old Ash that hangs precariously over the equally ancient woodshed at the edge of the family property on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore hasn’t changed in 75 years. Not, at least, in any way that you’d notice.

A ten-acre field of high grass stretches down to a spruce and fir tree line. A jumble of broken trunks and scrub give way to a tidal pond which nearly encircles a drumlin of scrappy forest that overlooks the mighty Chedabucto Bay.

You could walk a straight path from the shed to the shore, and do that all day, back and forth, and never meet another soul. This is, after all, a part of the world for the leaving of things, not for the returning.

According to a Statistics Canada survey, Guysborough is the least populous and prosperous county in Nova Scotia. The number of residents three years ago was just over 8,000, or roughly two for every square kilometer, earning $20,000 less in any given year than the average Haligonian.

In fact, the population has been shrinking (along with wages) since 1871, from a high of 16,555 to a low three years ago of 8,143, which was, itself, a 10 per cent drop since 2006.

What’s happened to Guysborough is now happening all across the Maritimes. This eastern district was merely among the first to send the flower of its youth to points west. Of course, the restless, generational search for work is bred in virtually all rural bones down here.

“Wave after wave of Maritimers have left their beloved homeland, rolling westward again and again to seek jobs up and down the Atlantic seaboard, in the American midwest and far west, in Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies, British Columbia, and the northern territories,” my father, the writer Harry Bruce, penned in his lengthy love letter to the region, “Down Home”, in 1988. “Leaving Home has long outlasted the  golden age of sail as part of their heritage.”

Indeed, it has. But sometimes on a soft, mid-summer afternoon, when the view of the bay from the base of the old Ash is clear and bright, you get a rousing sense of alternatives. History need not always repeat itself in exactly the same nauseating way.

You cock your ear to the merry squeals of your three-year-old grandson robustly engaging a soccer ball and his substantially older (and vastly more patient) cousins on the field beside the main house.

Meanwhile, your sister and her husband are attempting to dislodge a toy airplane made of balsa wood from the lower canopy of a maple tree into which it has careened.

Evident experts on such matters, they take turns hurling various items, purloined from the woodshed, at the flyer, until a garden rake becomes firmly wedged in the elbow  of a large branch. Now airplane and rake appear determined to remain where they are until at least the first nor’easter blows through.

You could solve their problem in an instant. There’s a ladder in the shed next to the winter wood. But you wonder. . .

“Leave this to me,” you shout, as you leap from your perch and start bounding towards the maple.

You gaze straight up and with one determined leap wrap your arms and legs around the trunk and commence to shimmy in a manner that’s both workable and undistinguished.

Stepping nimbly among the branches, you manage to guide a homemade contraption from the sibling ground crew to their quarries and, eventually, shake loose both rake and flyer.

Safely back on the ground, you cheerfully accept the applause of your family and marvel at the sheer effort it has taken to coordinate this reunion – harder than climbing a tree at age 53 – in this most out-of-the-way spot in the backwoods of Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, where the population has, nevertheless, if only for a summertime moment, spiked by eight.

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