The Price of Paradise: Bart Morris

description of image
Bart Morris

listenHear Bart Morris' Story

By Sean Corcoran

Scattered across Cape Cod's mucky landscapes, where the marsh and ocean meet at times of high tide, are large, blue, plywood boxes. They sit atop four pinewood legs that sink about a foot into the mud , so when the wind kicks up they don't take off like box kites or drift away when the tide flows in.

The boxes are greenhead flytraps, and every spring 39-year-old Bart Morris pulls on his knee-high rubber boots and slogs into the wetlands to place about 850 of them in strategic tideland locations from Woods Hole to Provincetown.

MORRIS: "The larvae live on the mud in the marsh. And at high tide in July, the first high ti de sets off the adult fliers, which are a nasty horsefly. They are looking for a place to hang out after the y come off the marsh and they fly into these blue boxes, and that's the end of them."

Morris works for the Cape Cod Mosquito Control Project, where he heads up the greenhead fly control program.

MORRIS: "It's just the female fly that bites, and we'll catch anywhere from 5 to 20,000 flies per marsh, depending on the marsh and how many flies are around. So it helps a lot. In some places you'l l only catch 1,000 flies. But if you live in that area, that's 1,000 flies you won't have on your back porch."

Morris begins distributing the traps in early April, and then retrieves them from the mud in the fal l, usually sometime after Labor Day. They weigh about 25 pounds each, and on a recent September morning he carried them on his back two at a time before stacking them in the bed of his truck and heading to retrieve more from the next marsh.

MORRIS: "We'll tie these down and head to the next location."

Every town on Cape Cod contributes money to the mosquito and greenhead fly control projects, which have been operating for nearly 80 years. Some marshes have two, four or maybe five of these traps. Sites popular with beach-goers such as North Beach of Sandy Neck in Chatham may have more than 60 traps. There's no doubt that they do their job, but not everyone appreciates them.

MORRIS: "You feel like you are at least helping out a little. You can't get them all. There a re always people that want more traps. And then there are people that don't like the traps at all. They don't like the look of them. I have gotten that before. That is their right, I guess. But their neighbors might disagree."

Morris has been building, repairing, placing and retrieving the traps for six years. Each day he tra vels to some of the Cape's most hidden ocean-side locations, down private roads and through scrub brush to breathtaking views.

MORRIS: "You get to be out on the marsh, scaring away coyotes her e and there. Blue heron. Ospreys. And the hawks. You know the other day in Eastham I spooked an owl out of the cedar trees. So it's nice, a lot of wildlife you get to see."

Morris grew up in Middleborough, and he spent summers on the Cape at his parent's cottage. He's had all sorts of jobs - carpentry, painting and even building docks. He recently moved from Harwichport to Brewster with his wife Emily and their two young children, Annabel and Jack.

MORRIS: "The best part of my life is the family. But it is definitely challenging. My wife wo rks, she's a bartender at night. Which is good, so we don't have to put them in independent daycare. My wife is with them during the day, and I have them at night."

Morris loves his job. He feels like he's helping keep the Cape enjoyable for people. But like many C ape Codders, on the weekends he keeps working - hanging sheetrock, doing light carpentry work and taking painting jobs. In recent years much of that extra income has gone to utilities.

MORRIS: "It seems like the electric rate really put a squeeze on us in our old house. It had electric heat. So I had $400, $500 electric bills. But with the kids, I really couldn't keep it down. I had t o keep the place warm. Years before that I would pay $200 and think that is a lot...So it's tough. But, you know, that's the price you pay living on Cape Cod. There's always a trade off, I guess. And it's worth it for me to trade that off."

The job has its hazards, particularly in the spring when he and his colleagues do experiments to see if they can improve their trapping techniques.

MORRIS: "I have to let the flies out of the traps in the morning, then three hours later I co me back to see how many I've caught. So over night there might be 1,000 flies in that trap. Then when I let them out, they swarm all over me. And I clean out the trap and I put the lid back on. And it's surprising , though, because I'm near the trap, most of them are attracted right back into the trap. But I do get bit. That's probably the worst part of the job. But taking them in at this time of the year, every once i n awhile you might have some bees that nested in there, or spiders or whatever in the trap. But not to o bad."

Insect bites are part of the job, and it's a job Morris never expected to find when he was studying history in college or building docks in Orleans. The benefits, he says, outweigh the swift sting of a bee and even the bloody bite from a greenhead.

listenHear the Extended Interview

Back to Price of Paradise