Battling the swarms


I’ve shared before in this column the story of my family’s move from Michigan to Minnesota when I was a kid. Our modest backyard bordered an expansive wetland, a not uncommon feature in an eastern Minnesota suburb. The wetland was beautiful in every season, and we loved living next to it except for one thing — it came with an annual infestation of the Minnesota state bird, aka the mosquito.

Of course, we were not entirely unfamiliar with the nasty critter; we had mosquitoes in Michigan, too. In fact, some of my earliest summer memories are of laying in bed, too itchy to sleep, scratching and scratching at mosquito bites. But, we soon discovered, our experiences with Michigan mosquitoes in no way prepared us for the Minnesota mosquitoes living in our backyard. All summer, they arrived daily in an abundance we had never seen in our original homeland. During the daylight hours, one was usually safe from their pesky bites, but once dusk hit, all bets were off. The mosquitoes would descend in giant droves, swarming any warm-blooded body they could find.

Dakota mosquitoes are another thing entirely. During dry years, we might go the whole summer without a single mosquito bite on the ranch. Two years ago, as we watched the garden shrivel and dry, the trees fade and lean, the grass stop growing before it even began, I kept saying, “Well, at least there’s no mosquitoes.”

It was cold (or in that case, brutally hot) comfort indeed.

This year has been rainy, with temperatures on the cooler side, which has allowed the puddles in the pasture to last long enough for multiple mosquito hatchings. The result: the worst mosquito year since I arrived on the scene over a decade ago. They don’t just bite us, they swarm us in buzzing droves all hours of the day and night.

I’ve written in the past about the tenacity of Dakota mosquitoes during the few and far between years they are able to thrive, and their ability to to bite while humans try to walk, run, or even bike away (something that mosquitoes in less windy regions are unable to do because mosquitoes aren’t supposed to be able to land if there is even a slight breeze) and now I can also add cantering on a horse to the list. That is another story for another column, but suffice it to say, for most of the month of July, if we were outside, we were getting swarmed.

You might imagine, then, the vigilance I applied when preparing for our camping trip to Bemidji, Minnesota last week. Bemidji is ecologically almost the exact opposite of western Dakota. They have an abundance of lakes and bogs and dense forests–in other words, the perfect habitat for mosquitoes. After battling the mosquitoes here all summer, where at least we have a house to occasionally retreat to, I was determined to arrive in Bemidji prepared so that our week in a tent wouldn’t be total misery.

Well, friends, this was an example of the best-laid plans…turns out while we’ve been having an unusually wet, cool summer, Minnesota has been having an unusually dry, hot one. We also happened to arrive in Bemidji the day smoke from the Canadian wildfires blew in and decided to hang out. So, while we did have to deal with heat and not great air quality for much of our time there, we did not have to deal with mosquitoes. The screened tent, screened hats, and bottles of insect repellent remained untouched. The few mosquitoes we did see were strangely uninterested in biting us and just buzzed around looking a little lost and confused.

Now we are home, and a week of high heat means the mosquitoes aren’t too bad here either. I’m secretly hoping for a mosquito-free August, but of course, I will not say that out loud — no need to tempt fate! And in the meantime, I will marvel at a nearly mosquito-free Minnesota vacation, a thing I would never have believed possible if I hadn’t experienced it myself.


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Eliza Blue is a shepherd, folk musician and writer residing in western South Dakota. In addition to writing her weekly column, Little Pasture on the Prairie, she writes and produces audio postcards from her ranch and just released her first book, Accidental Rancher. She also has a weekly show, Live from the Home Farm, that broadcasts on social media every Saturday night from her ranch.



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