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November 9, 2011 / mike54martin

Grateful for the Cold: A Canadian Love Story

If one can be grateful about the Canadian climate it is because one season kills off the bugs from the last. In winter, which is over half of the year, the flu bugs with their ever- increasing immunity from any other treatment than aspirin and bed rest, are almost completely wiped out once warm weather arrives, sometimes though not until near the end of school.

The other half of the year, it seems, we have to deal with viruses that have fallen from the heavens and delivered on the pointy ends of mosquito stingers. Nasty little viruses and diseases like SARS, and Norwalk and the potentially deadly West Nile Virus.

I was thinking how grateful I was the other morning as I was scraping the first layer of frost off my partner’s car. Gee, no mosquitoes. I have survived another year without getting West Nile. I must have been bitten 400,000 times, but none of those bloodsuckers had my name on it. Whew!

From the earliest days of Canada the Jesuits and the voyageurs there have been complaints about two things. The weather and mosquitoes. Now we find out that not only are they uncomfortable, but both can kill us. It used to be just the usually vicious and too-long winter, but now we have killer ice-storms, hurricanes, floods and droughts. The weather we know about, and we can provide ourselves some measure of protection against most of the predictable events. But mosquitoes. That’s a different story. You can run but you can’t hide.

According to Health Canada 74 species of mosquitoes are found in every part of Canada, everywhere except on a few of the small Arctic Islands. The good news is that most species do not live more than a month as adults. The bad news is that some of the larger species are long-lived, persisting from late May until August or even early September.

Other than staying indoors from May until October, which might mean that we have to stay inside all year, there is little you can do in Canada to stop being bitten by your friendly neighborhood Culicidae. (That’s Latin for mosquito.)

Oh there are plenty of suggestions that people swear will stop mosquitoes from biting: Bounce Fabric Softener Sheets, Vitamin B-1, Bananas, Vicks VapoRub, Skin So Soft. Even Vanilla Extract.

Hey, if it doesn’t work then you will smell better, especially you manly, woodsy types. And if those flagrant fragrances don’t work you can also spend your time inside building purple martin houses or better yet a bat house. Isn’t that what you always wanted in your backyard? There’s a Vancouver gardener who’s actually building and selling bat houses, if you’re keen on that idea.

One more thought. Have you always wanted a nice cuddly pet? How about a frog? He could stay inside with you all winter and live in your fern pot. And in the summer you would let him out at dusk to earn his keep.

Canadian cities and politicians have spent more time trying to deal with mosquitoes than they have on any other issue and yet, despite spraying, larvaciding, sweeping, and bombing, our summer buddies return every year. My partner’s theory is that mosquitoes bite us because they know we are afraid of them. So she puts on her best Zen smile and walks around mostly unprotected, mostly unbothered, and almost completely unbitten.

I, on the other hand, just can’t seem to avoid getting eaten alive. If I were to stand still I would be like one of those old Western guys, tied to a fiery anthill and bitten clean to the bone by sunrise. That’s because mosquitoes can find you by not only sensing your fear, they detect both carbon dioxide and lactic acid (produced by muscle metabolism) in your breath. They can also detect infra-red light from your body.

I will practice my meditation and my patience over the long winter months. Or I may order that bat house building kit I saw on the internet. Maybe I should go for a walk, it may just be safe to go outside now without my long-sleeved shirt and mosquito net. Then again, it is getting cold. Oh well. See you in June.

Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of the soon to be released book “Change the Things You Can” (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit:

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