Don’t mail bug spray

From the Top of the Pile


During the late 1990s, my late sister, Melanie, worked at summer jobs at fly-in fishing camps up in the Northwest Territories to pay for her nursing degree.

Each year I would make great effort of put together the best possible annual care package, within my fiscal means, sense of humour and what I could fit on one box.

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One year I happened to have a rain day from working on a pipeline project near Moose Jaw. I spent the whole day combing the mall and Canuck Wheel, looking for the right items. Five of diamond hooks were a must. Then there was the gimmick toilet plunger, to which I attached a keychain with her name on it, as she was a chambermaid. In the discount bin I found a CD of Johnny Cash hits. I suspect this fuelled her lifelong love of the Man in Black.

For siblings who didn’t really get along, this annual ritual of a care package from brother to sister was in many ways more cherished than Christmas, both in the giving and receiving. When you’re in the middle of nowhere, getting a box of love is just the thing to lift your spirits. I imagine prisoners of war felt the same way.

Step forward 20 years and our daughter, Katrina, is currently in the bush, learning how to eat bugs, skin rabbits and not get eaten by bears. She’s on her survival instructor course with air cadets, her third year attending camp at 4 Wing Cold Lake. First she took general training, then basic survival. Going to this camp has been the focal point of her year.

While the other camps were shorter, this one is a full six weeks, almost the entire summer. That’s kinda hard for a dad to take, when you realize that you only have your teenager for a few more years before its time to kick them out of the nest to fly on their own.

Thus, it was fitting and appropriate to put together a care package for her. First, there was her wish list. That started with Halls, lots and lots of Halls. When I talked to her this morning, she sounded sick, “Because everyone gets sick at camp,” she said. That, of course, makes sense, as you have kids bringing bugs from every part of the country and mix them in this petri dish known as summer camp.

I suspect Halls are like cigarettes in prison: a form of currency. She got lots of Halls.

Then there were some large packages of candy to share. Laundry soap pods were included because apparently the huge quantity we sent with her wasn’t enough. I wish she did that much laundry at home. I included a book to read, a journal to scribble in while on her solo camping expedition in the bush, and other knickknacks. Michelle, Spencer and I put post-it notes on most of the items, like I used to do for Melanie. Spencer’s said, “Don’t get eaten by a bear,” and “Don’t get a boyfriend.” Helpful, that brother.

But perhaps the most critical item was the two aerosol cans of Deep Woods Off bug spray. She has limited access to shopping while on base, and let’s face it, spending a large portion of six weeks in the bush of the boreal forest is a recipe for giving blood. These two cans should hopefully get her through to the end.

And that’s where things went south. After taping the heck out of the exterior of the box, I took it to Canada Post. There, the helpful mail clerk asked if there were any aerosols. I, perhaps foolishly, said yes. They have to come out, she explained. Dangerous goods. It’ll likely be going on an airplane, so that’s a no go.

Now, I realized this was not her fault, and thus volcanically erupting my wrath upon this nice lady would do no good. But my inner self was screaming as I cut open this carefully stuffed box and extricated the much-needed bug spray.

Lithium batteries and a host of other items are also not allowed. She had a nice list, with pictures.

Nearly every electronic device these days has lithium batteries. Lithium batteries are what makes the 2010s possible. As for aerosols, how did airliners survive the 1980s? With all that backcombed hair on nearly every woman alive in that decade, why weren’t the plains and oceans littered with crashed Boeings? Surely the aerosol hair sprays would have caused untold calamities.

I spoke about this to someone who regularly bootlegs aerosol deodorant to an acquaintance overseas, simply not declaring it. How do the numerous Airbus freighters survive his elicit trade in Secret?

I blame the shoe bomber. Because of him, we can’t wear shoes on planes. Somewhere around that time, they banned an entire phase of matter, liquids, because it is possible to make explosives out of liquids. (and solids, too, as well as gasses, but you can’t ban everything.) Because of that bovine feces nearly two decades ago, my daughter will have to scrounge some other bug spray, or get eaten alive.

The horror, the horror.

Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at

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