Unfolding the Map
Leeches? Mosquitoes? What kind of place is this? Why, it's Walker, Minnesota! Here a resident warns William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) that riffraff will be chased away by extreme temperatures and the previously mentioned beasties. I'll write about my own difficulties with bugs. Buzz on over and latch yourself to the map to see where Walker is located.
"Late spring had been creeping north, and suddenly that day it pounced. Nobody was ready for the eighty-two degrees. At Walker on the south shore of Leech Lake, I stopped at the county museum; it was closed, but the handyman, John Day, let me in to fill my water jugs....
"'This could be July,' he said. 'It can hit a hundred and five in July, and forty-five below in January. One hundred and fifty degrees of temperature is how we keep the riffraff out. When that doesn't do it, then it's up to the mosquitoes and leeches. If it wasn't for them, and another thing or two, this piece of God's country would be overrun with people.'"
Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 11
Mosquitoes. If there is anything that would keep me from wanting to spend time in a place, it's mosquitoes.
I've always been the one that mosquitoes like. Whether it's a flawed perception or not, I don't know, but it just seems that if I am in a place that mosquitoes inhabit, even when I'm with a number of other people, I get bitten the most. I've read that one can take Vitamin B supplements, keep one's feet clean, and wear lighter clothing to thwart them. I've tried all of those remedies when I'm in mosquito country, and nothing seems to work. I still get bitten.
I suppose it wouldn't bother me too much, except that when I get bitten I develop large welts. I've noticed that when some people get bitten, they experience a little bit of itching, and maybe a raised red spot that goes away relatively quickly. Not me. I'm left with big welts that itch for at least a half hour if not more, which then shrink into smaller red welts that continue to itch for 2-3 days. When a mosquito bites me, it tends to stay with me for a while.
Bug sprays and cremes work, but I don't really want to use them that much because I dislike the idea of spreading chemicals all over my body. But I'm not willing to suffer endless bites for that cause, so I will dutifully spread the chemicals when I have to.
From my days living in Wisconsin, I remember that wandering in wooded areas in the summer meant that one became a walking Happy Meal for the insects. In my work, we had the occasion to use a retreat center in rural Wisconsin, and on one of my first times out I decided to take a bucolic stroll in the forest near a small stream. What I remember is getting about a half a mile before running back to the retreat house. It wasn't just the mosquitoes, which were like clouds around me. It was also large black flies. Now, where I grew up, black flies were harmless. They often landed on you and just sat there, causing a little tickling sensation with their legs.
Not in the Midwest. The black flies were large, and they bit - hard. Not only did they bit, but they took a small chunk of flesh with them. In my supposedly bucolic walk, I felt something on my neck. I swatted, and a smear of blood came away from my neck, staining my hand with scarlet. That was when I ran. I felt that if I stayed out there that eventually my exsanguinated body would be found and I would be one of those unsolved mysteries that is only explained by supernatural or alien forces. The first kill by a chupacabra in Wisconsin.
When it comes to bugs, I don't know how humans can claim themselves to be at the top of the food chain. I don't think that there is a food chain. It's really a food circle, or a food sphere. Sure, we eat pretty much anything, and we have the intelligence to use weaponry to kill those things that are dangerous to us. Put us out in the forest, without weapons, and suddenly we become much more equal, if not inferior, to those animals that are bigger and stronger than we are.
All our weaponry and smarts won't allow us to truly defend ourselves against insects. They pervade our lives. At best we share space with them, as the constant presence of roaches in people's kitchens will attest. At worst we share ourselves bodily with them, as in the case of mosquitoes, ticks, lice, fleas and all the other creepy nasties that infest us or feed off our bodies. And then, for our sacrifice, they often infect us with diseases, some of which have lifetime consequences or even no cure. Think of Lyme disease, passed on through the bite of a deer tick seeking blood. Or worse, think of Dengue fever, a painful infection which plagues developing countries and can sometimes lead to death. Or even worse than that, think of Chagas disease, which is born by a bloodsucking insect with the quaint name of "the kissing bug." There is no cure once you get it. Even insects that aren't interested in us usually can put the hurt on us, as anyone who has stumbled on a beehive or stepped in a fire ant mound can attest.
I know that these insects are all part of the chain, or circle, or sphere. But when I'm around them, I have to wonder why there have to be so damn many of them and why they all have to come after me? At least I've never had experience with the other creepy thing in LHM's quote - leeches. I've seen them in places, most recently being sold as health aides in an Istanbul market. I hope I never run into them. A scene from the movie Stand By Me, where Wil Wheaton looks into his underwear and finds a leech attached to something down there, has ended any curiosity I might have had with leeches before it could even start. Since I live in a desert, I am blissfully free of both mosquitoes and leeches.
I'm good with most insects, as long as they leave me alone. But mosquitoes and other blood suckers angling for my sweet plasma? When I'm around, I don't care if the place is carpet bombed. Just keep them away from me. John Day, I don't think you'll see this piece of riffraff around Walker during mosquito season!
I have a friend named Hannes, who was a big Queens of the Stone Age fan for awhile. He tried to get me to listen to them, but I didn't really listen much. But as I was looking for a song to accompany this post, I ran across The Mosquito Song. The song has a Eastern European sound, the lyrics are mysterious and creepy, and there is an occasional set of strings that comes in resembling the sound of mosquitoes on the wing. Exactly complements how I feel about them.
If you want to know more about Walker
Annual International Eelpout Festival (okay, this needs explanation...eelpout is a fish and apparently the festival is an icefishing festival. You gotta love that they have an icefishing bikini team!)
City of Walker
Leech Lake Area Chamber of Commerce
The Pilot Independent (newspaper)
Next up: Whipholt, Minnesota