A Biblical Plague of Mosquitoes and Deer Flies; the Only Things Missing Now are Hornets and Leeches

When it comes to outdoor activities, I abide by the unofficial Post Office credo: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays my appointed rounds.

I also, as loyal readers may recall, often invoke the adventurer’s aphorism: “There’s no such thing as bad weather – only inappropriate clothing.”

Regarding such self-imposed rules, though, I make exceptions, and in the past week two deterrents conspired to curtail recreation and postpone a planned expedition.

One impediment was a forecast for relentless thunderstorms, which persuaded friends and I to put off a hike considered one of the Northeast’s most elegant yet challenging — The Presidential Traverse.

This 23-mile scramble through the White Mountains of New Hampshire crosses the summits of seven peaks in the Presidential Range: Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower and Pierce.

Over the years I’ve scaled all these peaks numerous times in various seasons and conditions, including a foray up 6,288-foot Washington during 30-below-zero, 100-mph whiteout winds – but I’d sooner go above tree line during a blizzard in February than during a July lightning storm.

My friends and I agreed to reschedule the traverse to when skies clear.

The other obstacle to fun and games has not so much been life threatening as quality-of-life-diminishing – a proliferation of mosquitoes from recent torrential rains.

As Day Staff Writer Judy Benson reported last week, and anybody who has set food outdoors recently can attest, we are now enduring a biblical plague of blood-sucking insects. According to the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station field workers collected 32,561 mosquitoes in the 91 traps set throughout the state, about twice the usual number for this time of year and one of the highest weekly totals in the 16-year history of the testing program.

“It could get worse over the next couple of weeks,” warned Philip Armstrong, the station’s associate scientist warned.

Great.

They wretched pests have made it so unpleasant I’ve reluctantly scaled back on some of my favorite pastimes and cut short other activities.

Before the explosion I typically would spend hours almost every day weeding the garden, cutting firewood, building walls, hacking at bittersweet and other outdoor pursuits, but now I have to don long pants, a long shirt or jacket and head net, garments particularly uncomfortable in 90-plus-degree temperatures and 90-plus-percent humidity.

I’ve tried various types of repellent clothing with limited success, and prefer not to slather myself with insecticides, figuring I have precious few brain cells to spare, so am left with two choices, neither particularly appealing: Swat, suffer, sweat and curse, or simply hunker down indoors.

So far mosquitoes haven’t interrupted my daily runs because the winged creatures are not inclined to give chase, but we’re approaching peak deer and horse fly season and those miserable bugs can zip along faster than my race pace. What’s more, they use razor-sharp jaws to cut through the skin and then inject anticoagulant saliva so they can suck blood for several minutes.

All we need now are white-faced hornets to complete the trifecta of stinging insects. These are the pit bulls of the insect world, and every year I manage to get stung at least once by blundering into a nest.

You can swat a mosquito or deer fly, but if you kill a white-faced hornet, I’m told, it sends out a chemical signal equivalent to a cavalry call for reinforcements.

The sting is  excruciatingly painful in two stages. At first it feels like being shot with a pellet gun, and then like being injected with a horse hypodermic needle filled with sulfuric acid. After one such bite my wrist and forearm swelled up to such Popeye-like proportions I couldn’t even strap on a watch for a week.

White-faced hornets are like fighter jets, amazingly fast and agile, and have struck while I’ve raced along on my bicycle.

I guess that leaves swimming as the only activity in which you can reliably avoid assault during these insect-infested periods – except …

Years ago, friends and I embarked on a multi-day canoe trip in Canada that unfortunately coincided with the height of black fly season. Black flies have been known to cause moose to collapse while desperately trying to escape, and there are undocumented claims of similarly large creatures exsanguinated by the blood-sucking insects.

Diving into the lake seemed to provide our only relief – until we surfaced covered in leeches.

“You win!” I cried, as we frantically packed gear and raced home.

You can’t fight Mother Nature, especially when her soldiers include such formidable foes.

 

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

In Stride With Women Runners: Amby Burfoot Celebrates Their History In A New Book

Back in the Dark Ages when I was growing up, one of the worst insults an adolescent male could hurl at one of his buddies was, "You run like a girl!"

Danger, Swan Attack! Quick, Wring Its Neck!

It’s difficult to imagine a more outrageous example of idiotic government overreaction than this week’s incident involving a mute swan on Five Mile Pond in Danielson, which would almost be laughable if the outcome weren’t so...

The Parable Of The Rope: An Icy Mountain Drama In New Hampshire's Carter Notch

With a blustery breeze making the 8-degree temperature feel as if were a few notches below zero, our group didn’t intend to dawdle while scrambling back to civilization. The mountain hut where we spent the night had been so frigid my boots...

Over The Falls! A Salmon River Adventure

You know that feeling when you’re about to attempt something adventurous that at first seemed it would be fun, but then doubts about your safety and sanity crept in? Oh no! Too late!

There's No Such Thing As Too Much Garlic

A few years ago, while visiting relatives in Canada, I noticed a giant basket of produce in a corner of the kitchen. "Wow! Where’d you get all that garlic?" I asked.

Plenty Of Mudslinging On The Trail

Well, we’ve made it through another winter, though for snow and ice fans it was pretty pitiful – but we’re not quite out of the woods when it comes to challenging hiking conditions.

Hey, Shaddup Out There! At Least Can You Tone Down All That Screeching, Snorting, Squawking, Croaking, Buzzing And Howling?

OK, I get it. It’s mating season, when all the furry, feathered and slimy critters are desperate for a little action, using the only pickup technique they know: make loud noises.

'Life Is Full of Roadblocks, But You Have to Drive Through Them' – Dirk Vlieks' Inspiring Recovery

After having swum the 1.2-mile leg of Hawaii’s Rohto Half-Ironman triathlon Dirk Vlieks of Mystic was 22 miles into the 56-mile bike section, already thinking ahead to the 13.1-mile run to the finish line, when he began to feel...

My Acute Case of OCWD (Obsessive Compulsive Wood Disorder)

You’d think that those of us who heat with wood can relax this time of year when we no longer must make 10 trips a day to the woodshed, stumble out of bed at 3 a.m. to stoke the stove, continuously shovel ashes and forage the forest for...

The Eagles Have Landed Again On The Connecticut River – And A Surprise Encounter While Kayaking Among Ice Floes

For viewing shore birds, marine mammals and a veritable Noah’s ark of critters that live near the water, nothing beats a kayak. Over the years I’ve paddled among seals, loons, beavers, sharks, sea turtles, otters, muskrats, snakes,...

Maple Syrup Magic: A Sweet Reminder Of Impending Spring

Skunk cabbage and crocuses poking through the snow; almost two extra hours of daylight, a robin’s chirp; the arrival of pitchers and catchers at baseball training camps – unmistakable signs of the approaching season abound, but as far...

Embrace The Cold! It’s Fun (Right)

Just as Dylan famously sang so long ago, "You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows," I don’t need a thermometer to know the temperature – or at least what to wear when I venture outside for...

A Chilly Paddle Among The Seals Off Fishers Island

"What did you say the water temperature is?" my buddy Steve Kurczy called out. "Thirty-eight degrees!" "And how long …" He didn’t have to finish the question.