The summer solstice is days away. This is a time of the year to celebrate the coming summer solstice with, relaxing strolls picnicking, playing corn hole, messing about in the garden, sitting outdoors enjoying a cup of morning coffee or an evening drink. 

Recently, I delivered delivered a fresh batch of rhubarb crisp to an eighty-something neighbor, named Karl. We chatted in his living room where he was still commenting on the tough winter with all of its ice.

Exasperated, Karl, wailed, “I was imprisoned in here for three months this winter with all the snow and ice. Never seen anything like it!” He paused to take a breath before adding, “And now when I can finally make my way outside it’s impossible!”

“Why is that? I ask.

“The girls are all mad at me.”

He saw my daft look and followed with “Mosquitoes!” Karl knows that it is only the female mosquitoes that are in search of a blood meal.

He winced and shook his head and exclaimed, “Ohhhh gosh and their straws seem longer this year!” I smiled and mentally agreed that “straws” is easier to say than proboscises.

Just before seeing Karl, I had delivered some of the tart dessert to  another eighty-something neighbor, Dennis. He too commented about the bugs. “Mosquitoes are bad. I think I saw one fly around my face with a tick on it!”

With every low piece of water holding water from the snowy winter and now warm weather, the mosquitoes are having their own solstice gathering.

As I chatted with Karl, he added thoughtfully, “ You know mosquitoes have their place. Think of all the ducklings, birds and bats that depend on skeeter protein. And you know, in the grand scheme of things, a little discomfort never hurt anyone.”

We both wondered how smart is it to ward off mosquitoes by lathering or spraying your body with chemicals you can’t pronounce. Karl’s choice: “Long sleeves and pants keeps ‘em off you.” I agreed. Personally, I haven’t used bug dope in years. I really don’t think a diet of that stuff on our largest organ, our skin, is a good trade off.

My favorite barrier is my Original Bug Jacket with the hood equipped with a zip face mask. I have used it for many Canadian canoe trips (where bugs are far worse than what we are currently experiencing) and it works super well for both mosquitoes and black flies.

My visit with Karl had me reflecting on a piece I wrote in 2006 and  I had the privilege of reading it on Minnesota Public Radio. It seems timely so I am resurrecting it here:

The Case for the Mosquito and Me

I noticed a stowaway mosquito fly slowly past my face. It descended and landed just above my exposed left knee. Shorts were the order for the humid June day and in the shelter of my car I typically do not worry about pesky insects. But here was an uninvited passenger, inspecting my flesh and about to pierce my skin with its slender proboscis. With one hand on the steering wheel, I raised the other hand as a gavel and was about to cast judgement when I stopped the crushing clap to consider the innocent act of this most companionable insect. 

No other insect keeps company like the mosquito. From spring to the first hard frost they are never far from my side. As I get older I am realizing that our partnership is more reciprocal than I had once thought. The mosquito gains nourishment from my blood and I not only receive the benefits of its search for nectar and its pollinating of plants, but I learn the value of perseverance. 

I gritted my teeth upon feeling the momentary sting of the needlelike proboscis. With my paddlelike hand lingering inches over the insect I listened to the arguments of the defense. 

Though most would argue that the tiny two-winged insect is guilty of assault and battery I told myself that this creature is only doing what it has done for millennia. With a blood donor, the female mosquito will be capable of laying two to four hundred eggs. Without the blood meal she might lay only eighty or so eggs. If anything, the female mosquito is following its urge for motherhood. 

In my lifetime, I have maimed and murdered thousands of times. Yet I walk free and I manage an unfettered, guiltless sleep every night. Untold numbers of dead potential mother mosquitoes, deer flies, ticks and others that we label as pests, have been thoughtlessly left behind without an apology or a moment of quiet reverence in their passing. 

After a couple of unsuccessful probes, the mosquito struck blood just above me knee and she began to draw my blood. Many species of mosquitoes prefer the blood of other creatures to that of humans.  Our blood is low in isoleucine, an amino acid that enhances the mosquito egg proteins. But since we are the dominant and most numerous species of mammal on the planet, we are an easy mark. No other species of mammal, whether it is a mouse, shrew, or rabbit is as widespread or plentiful as humans. 

Suddenly I realized that this swelling mosquito would use some of my genetic material, my very being, to produce its next generation. Of those hundreds of eggs left in a wetland, puddle or water-filled old tire or treehole, many of them would metamorphose into larvae and become food for other insects, ducklings, minnows, fish fingerlings and many other critters. Eventually the mosquito-eater’s flesh will nourish another link in the food chain until finally a host of invertebrate, fungal and bacterial life forms would finish up the act of decomposition.

Consequently I am everywhere. Through this mosquito, molecules of me become the building blocks of others and I am unquestionably connected to the larger natural community. We are of the same blood; relatives all. Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 classic, Jungle Book featured a boy, Mowgli, raised by wolves. He had it right when Mowgli said, “We be of one blood, ye and I.”

 I would argue that in my caring and nurturing of other life forms I am caring for my very being. If we, as a species, cared for the natural world as we would care for ourselves we would not be having discussions about global warming, the loss of biodiversity, “dead zones” in the oceans, urban sprawl, and deforestation. 

I marveled at this epiphany and my suspended hand returned to the steering wheel while the frustrated prosecuting team in my brain rested its feeble case. 

The engorged mosquito struggled slightly to free its proboscis from my skin. Then slowly she lifted off towards the window on my left. I opened the window, wished her luck, and watched the laden mosquito quickly disappear through the opening. 

I scratched my knee and contemplated an appeal.


*Also for some unabashed self promotion you can find tips and interesting natural history facts on various critters that scare and bother people in the book: Things that Bite published by AdventureKeen.