Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Maine Mosquitoes and Me, Part One
One of the unavoidable parts of summer in rural Maine is pests. Just like we humans like to get outside and live life to the fullest in the warm weather months, so also do the critters that like to feed on us. Like mosquitoes, for example.
Anopheles quadrimaculatus, as mosquitoes are known to scientific types and ancient Romans, are irritating little snotbags that surround you like a cloud of organic misery whenever you set foot outside the door in any Maine location that is even remotely rural, which is a lot of it. Contrary to popular belief, mosquitoes do not actually feed on your blood. Only the females extract blood from their victims, and it is used by them to help their eggs develop. In her lifetime of up to 100 days, a female mosquito can have nearly 3000 offspring. For actual food, mosquitoes of both genders prefer nectar, juices, and rotting things that are so abundant in the woods. Illnesses carried by mosquitoes kill more people than any other factor. Encephalitis, malaria, dengue fever and the like are among the maladies that these nasties can carry around. There are over 3000 different subspecies of mosquito, and no one prevention method works against all of them. Well, I suppose swatting would, but that method only goes so far.
By the way, I am not some kind of mosquito savant by any means. I got the above information from the website Mosquito Solutions.
My most recent camping trip to the Maine coast was haunted by mosquitoes almost from beginning to end. I still itch just thinking about it, and every tingle on my skin still makes me want to swat.
It started on the drive down, which is about two and a half hours from my house to my favorite spot on the coast. Among the rituals I have developed for the drive are listening to cheesy 80s pop music on the way (mostly stuff by the band The Cars this time), and stopping for gasoline and a large soda at a particular gas station whether I need them or not. This trip, my car’s tank needed topping off, though my own tank really didn’t. I still had the morning’s coffee and juice sustaining me, but nonetheless, ritual is ritual. So I picked up an extra large Cherry Pepsi. (Don’t judge me, people! It was something different.) At 69 cents for any size fountain drink, I like to go big and get my money’s worth.
If I had been smart, I would have visited the restroom while I was at the gas station, but, to echo the sentiment expressed by countless traveling 8-year-olds throughout history, I didn’t have to go then. About half an hour further down the road, with much of the Cherry Pepsi now gone, I most assuredly did, and urgently. I was miles from my destination, and from any sort of public restroom, so I did what any red-blooded male would have done: I turned down a woods road in an isolated area until I was out of sight of the main drag, and got out of the car to take care of business, so to speak.
A few mosquitoes honed in on me before my feet even touched the ground, but there was no turning back now. Nature was calling, very, very adamantly. As I proceeded to empty my full bladder, more and more mosquitoes joined the party until I was amidst a literal swarm of them. Now while I only needed the use of one hand for the task I was undertaking, it was not like I was free to swing the other around with wild abandon to shoo away the pests. To do so would have resulted in an embarrassing mess and necessitated a prompt change of footwear and maybe more. If I didn’t know better, I’d almost think that the mosquitoes sensed this, and ramped up their attacks knowing my defenses were down. It’s no accident that these little buggers have thrived on this planet since prehistoric times. I swatted and slapped as carefully as I could, but there were too many coming in too fast to too many locations on my person. It was easily the longest minute or so of my life. By the time I was back inside my car (along with a half dozen or so mosquitoes who had hitched a ride), I had been chewed to bits and was itching like crazy. The slightest sensation on my arms or legs made me slap mosquitoes, imagined or not. I must have looked like a madman driving down the road.
In time, I reached my campsite, which this time was much woodsier than the waterfront site I had on my last trip. I could see the ocean at a distance through the trees, but the overriding feature was trees and shade. It was actually quite nice, set back from the road and apart from other sites. I knew I’d be able to get some serious reading and writing done without distraction, and that I could listen to Red Sox games on the radio at a reasonable volume without worry of bothering nearby campers. The drawback of this woodsy site, however, was that the mosquitoes were much more prevalent than they would have been along the bay. For some reason, the sea breezes and salt water seem to discourage them from hanging out in large numbers along the immediate shoreline.
As soon as I got out of the car to begin setting things up, the mosquitoes found me again, but this time I was ready for them. I doused myself with a liberal amount of insect repellant, which is not something I like to do, but which seemed very necessary if I was to have any pleasure out of this trip. The tacky feel of that stuff on my skin bothers me, and I don’t even want to get into the odor, which smells like a combination of abandoned chemical factory and rotten tropical fruit. It worked pretty well for the most part, though I needed to reapply the toxin again later in the day, having sweat the first application off.
When night fell, the uneasy truce between the mosquitoes and me started to fall apart. I’ll tell you more about that in my next blog post, which will be here in a few days.