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

Granola Munchers Vs. Snickers Gobblers: Conflict Over Plans for a Hotel on New Hampshire's Mount Washington

The first time friends and I trudged up New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in winter the frozen peak might as well have been Antarctica – hurricane-force winds and blinding snow battered us, the only climbers that day atop the highest...

How to Build a Stone Wall in 14,863 Easy Steps

I realized long ago that you’re never really finished building a stone wall, even after you’ve dragged and hefted into place what seemed like the final boulder, exhaled mightily and stepped back to admire your work.

Just in Time for the Holidays: Fagin's Annual Gift Catalogue for the Discerning Outdoorsman and Outdoorswoman

How often does this happen to you: You’re merrily tearing through the woods in your four-wheeler and come to what looks like a shallow stream but turns out to be a deep, water-filled ditch, so your beloved machine sinks like a stone beneath...

Arduous Autumn

In spring we crawl out of our cocoons and celebrate bursting rejuvenation; in summer we play outside from dawn to dusk; during the dark, frigid winter we hunker down like hibernating bears – which leaves fall, when we try to set aside time...

Chain Saw? We Don't Need No Stinking Chain Saw…

So, did you hear that doctors have developed a new method of performing an appendectomy without using anesthesia? It’s exactly like the old operation, except it hurts like a son of a b.

You CAN Go Home Again: A Run Through My Old West Haven Stomping Grounds

Although for decades I’ve been living in a home surrounded by trees that is heated primarily by wood stoves, and I enjoy kayaking, mountain climbing, building stone walls, growing organic vegetables and many other active outdoor pursuits,...

Utah Rocks Part II: Kayaking Down The Colorado River

Propelled by a swift current on the Colorado River earlier this month, my son, Tom, and I gazed at red rock cliffs gleaming against an azure, near cloudless sky. The rustle of aspen and cottonwoods in a gentle breeze mingled with the rush of...

Utah Rocks: Adventures Among The Arches And The Rapids (Part I)

You know how it feels when you witness something so astonishingly exquisite and surreal it literally takes your breath away, and all you can do is gasp in amazement?

Oops. I Meant To Say, Whatever You Do, NEVER Try To Pose For A Selfie With Bear Cubs While Mama Grizzly Is Watching, And Other Corrections

• Alert readers have correctly pointed out a slight flaw in my instructions for the proper rock climbing command when you have unclipped from your rope. You should loudly announce, "Rappel off," not "On rappel."...

Use It Or Lose It: Trails Disappear If Nobody Hikes Them

Nature really hates a vacuum when it comes to paths.

Plunging Through Plum Gut And Bongo Sliding Through The Race In A Kayak: Maybe There Is Such A Thing As Too Much Fun

So a rabbi and a psychiatrist are kayaking in the ocean when a giant wave crashes over them and knocks the rabbi unconscious. The psychiatrist manages to pull the rabbi ashore, where he regains consciousness.

Once Again, Pink Gloves (Plus a Clever Signal) Help Save The Day At The Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon

"On your left!" Phil Warner shouted from the bow of a tandem kayak, racing toward a buoy during the paddle leg of last Sunday’s Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon in Lenox, Mass.

It's Swallow Time Again On The Connecticut River

Early Thursday evening was a magical time to paddle on the lower Connecticut River near Lyme.