The Mighty Mosquito

If you are a fan of gin and tonics, you might want to read this book. It’s a very entertaining history of tonic water, which has quinine as a main ingredient, which was used to treat malaria, which is spread by mosquitoes. “Malaria is not the mosquito’s fault, but mosquitoes suck anyway.”

I happened to be reading it in the tent last weekend, with a line of fresh mosquito bites on my forehead, exactly following the bottom edge of my hat.

You know how there is always one person in the group that gets the most bites? For most of my life, that person has been me. My love of being outside dwarfs my annoyance at bug bites and over the years I have managed to adopt some level of acceptance. I try to brush them away rather than constantly swatting — it keeps me calmer and less wigged out, more than it is a demonstration of a loving nature. Plus, I assume they are an important part of the food chain… unless they are the result of humans mucking around with things? Surely I know a scientist who can answer this.

Last Friday night, when we rolled into a discrete meadow near a high mountain creek, the skeeters were plentiful and voracious. Mack was laying in the grass, his fur carpeted with them. Emma wisely took refuge in the truck while RK set up the tent. I pulled on pants and long sleeves and the hat that quickly defined their target area.

There are a few things you want to do after a long drive: walk around, have a drink, set up camp, check out the new surroundings, listen, relax. I could do all of these things except the last. When I wiped my cheek and my hand came away black with smashed insects, I gave up. We hunkered in early and hoped for a cold night or a strong, consistent wind to keep the little fuckers away.

For hours we heard the quiet boom of nighthawks diving, hopefully inhaling mosquitoes with every flit and dive. This is an intensely nostalgic sound for me, one I remember hearing often in my childhood, camping in the mountains of Colorado. My dad has a history of making up names for things (he once told me that the crying sound of frogs at a reservoir where we were camped was “swamp babies”), but when I asked about the boom sound at twilight, probably when I was 7 or 8 years old, he told me nighthawks, and they really were. Last weekend, I used a bird identification app on my phone to verify the “peeent” sound was their call, and then watched their erratic flight overhead.

Saturday morning started out no better, bug-wise. I was drinking coffee and pacing the meadow in an effort to find the breeziest spot. Bites were adding up on my shoulders, hips and face. Could we find a less buggy spot? The wet spring and recent snowmelt meant that every place was more or less equally infested. We had found a perfect meadow with a view, a hill to climb, a creek to fish, privacy from the road… and we might be driven out by stupid mosquitoes.

And then wind. The sound of air through the aspen leaves has never been so welcome. I’ve talked about my love of wind before, and while it makes fishing tricky and can be a generally exhausting thing to be out in, we both professed our love for the wind as the bugs were blown away and our camp was finally able to live up to its potential.

Yes, mosquitoes suck (both literally and figuratively). But they brought us tonic water. And watching nighthawks dive in front of a brilliant sunset, aspens whispering, with a cold g&t in hand, is a pretty satisfying way to spend an evening. So, respect to the mighty mosquito. But mostly, thank you wind.

Laurel Hunter

Laurel Hunter

Central Oregon, USA