I’d thought I’d seen the worst mosquitos had to dish out. I’ve been to Alaska after all; where the bloodsuckers are so big they’re listed as the state songbird. But nothing could compare with what I ran into on a dog walk the other evening.
I was out on the bench outside of town. This is dry country, typical Wyoming badlands. I’ve been out there plenty of times before with not so much as a fly to bother me. But a few days before we’d been hit by the edge of that monsoon slamming Colorado. Still, I thought mosquitos needed something a little wetter than damp dirt to breed.
Looking out across the barren bench, with just a few pools of gathered rainwater, I was beginning to think I was mistaken.
The pools were only a few days old and too few to be the source of the swarm that attacked minutes into our walk. I’ve never thought of mosquitos as particularly good fliers, but it turns out some species are strong enough to migrate miles from the stagnate water they need to breed. These migrations are usually wind assisted, and wind is something never lacking in Wyoming.
Down below the bench I could see the vast irrigated fields of the Big Horn Basin. I suppose all those skeeters need to do is get up in the air once they hatch, and the wind would have them up here in no time.
Still, other than a rogue antelope or two, and the occasional sage grouse, the blood meals are few and far between on the dry bench. That probably accounts for the swarm that quickly discovered the dogs and me. I heard a buzz or two that I slapped away from my ears, noticed a couple more flying around my head, and then looked down at my exposed calves an saw a dozen or so helping themselves to my red blood cells. I killed five or six with one swat, and they all left splotches of blood where I’d crushed them.
The thing was, no sooner had I shooed them away than a dozen more landed on my legs. I tried to keep moving, thinking that would keep them off, but that didn’t help. The swarm around my head grew so thick I drew a couple into my mouth with a hard breath.
I’m normally not the squeamish type but this was too much. I turned back toward the car, and then started running. If there’d been anything out there to see me they would have been entertained. As I ran I repeatedly swept my ball cap across my legs with my right hand while running my left across the back of my head, to keep the thick cloud of blood suckers from landing. I must have looked like the caribou I remember from the old film they used to show us in grade school. The skeeters would be so relentless they’d torment the herd into a stampede.
Alaska is the state that does skeeters best. I was up there once, fishing for salmon and grayling in a village just south of the Artic Circle. After dinner we’d play basketball with the kids from the village. The court was outdoors and the pressure to win was intense. Losers sit, and the only way to keep from being eaten alive was to be on the court, moving. The kids calling “next” looked a little anemic by the time it was their turn on the court.
My column mug shot shows me smoking a cigar. I almost never smoke except when I’m fishing. A cloud of stogie smoke makes for a pretty good mosquito repellant, and I figure even tobacco smoke has to be less toxic than the stuff we slather on our skins to keep bugs off.
Still, I think I’ll invest in some DEET and take my chances with the side effects. Late summer is West Nile Virus season. We’ve had a couple recent cases here, including one fatality.
There’s a dusting of snow up on the mountains. I’m hoping for a good hard frost down in the bottoms to clear those buggers out until next year.
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