The buggery

“We have to whisper,” my wife Rachael murmured as she sparked up a Coleman lantern. “They might hear us.”

I gently closed the door, tiptoed over to my personal Eve and mouthed the words, “Who might hear us,” before scanning the dusty plywood cabin for lurkers, listeners and predators.

“Don’t move,” she said and slowly reached for a muddy rubber boot near the front door. “There are two of them hiding in the far corner. The bastards snuck in right through the screen.”

Again, I squinted in the half light, scanned the room and shook my head, still stumped.

That’s when the attack began (cue the slasher music). The first intruder stealthed up behind me, tagged a spot not far from my jugular and penetrated a vein. The second – and more ambitious – bandit went for the hot spot. I soon felt a whir, buzz and an uncomfortable tingle in the vicinity of my crotch.

“Hold still,” Rachael shouted, swinging the rubber wellie at my neck. But the perp was too quick, cutting off mid-bite and flying off into the shadows (The boot did manage direct contact). “Where’s the other one?” she asked, the wellie once again cocked and loaded. I immediately stopped scratching the new wound in my nether regions and sheepishly shook my head. The boot flew anyway, and I dodged, side-stepped and barely missed taking a big one for the family.

As the attackers celebrated a victory, Rachael took a deep breath and fell back on our bed, exhausted. “I think we’re dealing with a different breed of mosquito now,” she muttered. “They’re getting smarter. I fear they’re beginning to learn our motions.”

It was the summer of 2000, and the wife and I had just made the big shift, leaving our professional jobs for four months of commercial fishing in Alaska. We found ourselves working long hours harvesting wild salmon on Kalgin Island – a remote chunk of rock most Alaskans have never heard of. What the island lacked in electricity, roads, currency and stores, it made up for in proximity to active volcanoes, hundreds of resident bald eagles and everything from fields of wild iris to acres of blueberry bushes. We also quickly learned that every paradise has its dark edges – Kalgin boasted a legendary crop of mosquitoes.

It should be noted that Alaskan mosquitoes are an altogether different breed than their Colorado cousins, truly the super-athletes of the species. They’re larger, boast more horsepower and sport extra cargo space to handle greater volumes of blood. Even the welts are more abusive (just ask my tenders). In addition, the rubber boot episode was no exaggeration. Those buggers were smart, somehow managing to outwit and happily feed upon us all summer long.

After four months of inner ear stings, bugs under the eyelids and itchy unmentionables, I can safely say that Alaska was my most brutal run-in with the Class Insecta. (For the record, last weekend in North Durango did come close. Unannounced and uninvited, the mother of all mosquito swarms descended on my now 7-year-old’s afternoon birthday party. Sadly, several pints and several close friendships were lost during the ordeal.)

Considering all of this six-legged glamour, you might imagine that chemical warfare and I are old chums; that I wouldn’t think twice about pulling the trigger on the Raid; Cuttering into the problem; or sprinkling a little Malathion on what dignity I have left.

But the whole truth is that it’s always been bat houses, fly swatters and rubber boots for this family. Call us hippies, but we’re long time “No Spray List” veterans and run the telephone gauntlet at the mosquito control district each spring for the honor. You see, landing and staying on the list has never been an easy task.

We first phoned spray central seven years ago. Our request for chemical freedom was immediately questioned. First, the drawl on the other end of the line asked point-blank why we wanted on the list. That we had a large garden, dozens of fruit trees, civil rights and a newborn roaming our little piece of property didn’t seem to do the trick.

“OK, I can add you to the list if you really want,” we were finally told. “But I can’t make any promises. If the wind blows, your property’s probably going to get sprayed anyway.”

Ensuing years have brought new challenges. “You do know that all the houses around you have asked for extra spray,” I was told in 2003.

“We’ve heard complaints that mosquitoes are breeding on your property (a modest, dry acre in the Animas Valley),” I heard on another occasion. And Rachael and I have even put up with a few rogue (“purely accidental”) foggings.

But we did learn a valuable lesson in Alaska. You can slap, hide or spray to your heart’s content. You can clear brush, suck down standing water and even throw thousands of simoleons at the problem. The truth is that these little bugs can be briefly deceived, but never beaten.

I’ve also learned that Rachael was right all those years ago. Looking at our quest to beat the little bastards, I can’t help but scratch my head as I try to cover my ass. When our chemical crusade is said and done, the mosquitoes are certain to be the survivors. They might just end up being the smarter species after all.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

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January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows