New England’s Secret Season

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Welcome to the May 2008 edition of Jud’s New England Journal, the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, editor-in-chief of Yankee Magazine, published since 1935 in Dublin, New Hampshire.

New England’s Secret Season

It’s not ever mentioned in regional or resort promotional material. Never.

However, all of us New Englanders are very familiar indeed with what’s known among us as “bug season.” Bug season starts out with a sort of subseason known as “blackfly season” and then continues on into what’s ordinarily labeled as the summer season, which, in turn, can be broken down into haying season, corn-on-the-cob season, and “August.” August is the month when the young summer workers in the large resort towns discover that it’s either difficult or impossible to maintain a pleasant front to tourists.

Bug season, however, encompasses all of these New England mini-seasons, simply because there are bugs swarming around all during those months. Not that they bother most of us natives all that much. There are many ways to cope with them, the best being to ignore them. But I personally have briefly known several couples who have moved to New England, discovered to their total surprise the existence of bug season, and moved away because of it — to Hawaii, for instance, where apparently there are no bugs.

For some, the blackflies are the most difficult to tolerate, even though, thank goodness, they go to sleep after sunset. By the time the mosquitoes, which don’t seem to ever sleep, the no-see-ums (which also don’t require rest), and the assorted deerflies, also known as horseflies, are geared up to seasonal capacity, we’re pretty much over our early-spring notion that living in the country is perfect.

Some years ago, the town of Harrisville, New Hampshire, dealt with its abundance of blackflies by actually celebrating them. Each spring there was a Blackflies Ball, to which residents came dressed up in blackfly costumes. There were blackfly T-shirts for sale in town and the Harrisville softball team was called — you guessed it — the “Blackflies.” Guess they eventually got sick of doing all that, however, and went back to simply enduring their blackflies like the rest of us.

Henry David Thoreau used to rub a concoction “composed of sweet oil of spearmint and camphor” all over the exposed areas of his body. As many of us discover early in life, he eventually concluded that “the remedy was worse than the disease.”

Other “remedies” would include wrapping oneself up like a mummy so that not one square inch of skin is exposed, smearing on commercial fly dope, which renders one temporarily blind if it seeps into your eyes, and standing in either campfire or cigarette smoke or in a good ocean breeze.

I find it helpful to remind myself that whenever I’m with bugs, I’m either picnicking, fishing, camping, working in the garden, or otherwise engaged in a pleasant, warm activity. In theory, then, I suppose one is programmed to associate pleasure with voracious blackflies swarming into one’s nostrils and mouth.

Ignoring our bugs requires an extreme form of mental concentration on things like blossoming lilac bushes and fruit trees, the sound of birds in the early morning, the greening of the countryside, the full brooks and rivers (if not too full!), the blooming of the Indian turnip (or jack-in-the-pulpit), and those wonderfully long hours of daylight.

Come to think of it, after a winter like the one we just experienced, I truly am looking forward to “bug season.”


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