I had a fortunate childhood. I was born in the city and each summer we would pack our station wagon as full as it could get and we would drive North to our cottage in Muskoka to spend two glorious months at the lake. I was a water baby and could not get into my bathing suit fast enough in the morning so I could run, bare-footed, down to the dock to jump in the water. I would spend hours in that lake, eventually swimming to the point of land between our family cottages where our extended family members would come from their cottages for cookouts to fry the fish we had caught that morning.
In the afternoon, I was back in the water with my diving mask looking for undiscovered treasures or coming up for air in the open space under the dock to marvel at the number, and size, of the dock spiders inhabiting the space they begrudgingly allowed me to share. The recollections I have of being a child at that cottage continue to resurface and I hold each of those memories close to my heart.
Although I am blessed with a good memory, I could never forget one summer if I tried. I was still in single digits and the summer began as a normal summer. I was on my way to the dock when I noticed the tent webs starting to form in the V-branches of many of the trees surrounding our cottage. As the mornings progressed, the webs became bigger, they took over more of the branches and they began to assume ownership of the trees. The larvae that had been birthed in those webs had grown and soon the foliage around our cottage was infested with Forest Tent Caterpillars. I can only describe the days that followed as something you would see in an Alfred Hitchcock film.
(the branch I removed from one of my trees this summer)
When the caterpillars reached maturity, they began to drop from their nests. The days of me running to the dock in bare feet was a thing of the past as I donned my running shoes and held an opened umbrella to avoid caterpillars landing on me as I slowly made my way along the tree-lined path to the open sky over the dock. I can still recall the sound of the caterpillars bouncing from the woven fabric of the umbrella and it gives me chills. The infestation was so brutal that cars slid into ditches because the roads were so slick after being covered by these furry little creatures and car tires could get no traction on the pavement.
The webs are back in the trees again this year, but their presence is nothing like it was that summer. Like the smell of spearmint gum in my mom’s purse, the sound of caterpillars pinging off my umbrella will live with me for the rest of my life.