As I write this, Prince Edward Island is still in recovery mode after Hurricane Fiona washed out roads and bridges, collapsed barns and houses, uprooted thousands of trees, and left ninety percent of islanders without power. We were headed there at the same time Fiona was wending her way north and had to turn around. We’re thankful that our house made it through, and owe a huge debt of gratitude to our neighbors, who diligently replaced shingles on our roof and hauled the outdoor furniture inside before the storm, then checked the property afterward.
Surviving the Cat Stink
One reason I fell in love with PEI is that, wherever you go, you’ll likely have a vista of red cliffs and a beach, typically edged by farm fields of bright yellow canola or potato fields blossoming such a bright white, it’s like a million butterflies have landed on the green.
That beauty helped me survive our first season in the house.
Whenever there was rain or damp weather (pretty much every day here in the Maritimes, on the geographical edge of Canada), a cat stink mist rose to clog our noses and mouths.
“Where is it coming from?” my husband asked.
“I think everywhere,” I said.
We crawled around on hands and knees, sniffing. Kitchen floor? Yup. Rusty radiator in the living room? Uh huh. How about the sun porch? Check, check, and check: some previous owner’s felines definitely had one big cat party in here.
“Holy hell,” I said. “What are we going to do?”
We did it all: washing the floors and radiators, throwing bleach at the smell, and even pulling up boards and replacing them. We also sanded and repainted a lot of the walls. Mostly, the smell went away, but every now and then there would be a whiff and we’d fall to our knees again.
The Insects Rule
The other surprise obstacle: insects. I’d only ever been to Prince Edward Island in summer. Now, eager to try living in our house, I arrived in April to open things up.
The first insects to take up residence with us were black flies, clouds of critters with the supernatural ability to leave holes in your skin that would turn to welts. They were undeterred by any amount of insect repellent, even Deep Woods Off.
Next came the horse flies. Now, we have flies in Massachusetts. We even have greenhead flies, which send most tourists scurrying for the nearest airport. But I have never run from horse flies as big as the horseflies on Prince Edward Island. These were bat-size. I didn’t just sprint away. No, I did the kind of survival running those people do in movies about apex predators.
After that came the more ordinary house flies, which one of my neighbors called “shingle flies.”
“What are those?” I asked.
She gave me a look. “Flies that live in your house shingles.”
Right. Another dumb Come From Away question.
The flies were definitely living in the shingles of our house. They also seemed to be rising up from the farm below, where our neighbor raised cows and sheep. Whatever the official name of these flies might be, it should have included “Super Sly.” No matter how tight the screens were on the windows, or even if the windows were closed completely, they managed to sneak into the house. It became a nightly ritual to grab the flyswatter and smash five hundred flies with the bedroom door closed so we could sleep without buzzing. If we made the mistake of getting up at night to use the bathroom, we had to start all over.
Our fly-bashing skills proved handy for the next round of critters: the mosquitoes. We have mosquitoes in Massachusetts, too, but these were like the Cirque du Soleil of mosquitoes: risk-taking high fliers who could wriggle through even smaller holes than the shingle flies, out-fly the black flies, and leave welts on our skin the size of bread slices. One night I went outside to walk the dog and had to run for my life back into the house, driven by the deadly drone of a million mosquitoes.
Did we hate the island by then? Were we sorry we’d bought the old Homer Robertson house?
Stay tuned for a tale of ghost ships and the Mick Jagger of fiddlers…