It seems that it’s that time of year again. People seem to be telling lots of stories about mosquitoes, much of which I suspect is exaggeration, hyperbole and even outright lies. Now I don’t want to come straight out and accuse anyone else of stretching the truth- take this sign that some folks in the Adirondacks put up for instance- I don’t know if it was to attract tourists or keep them away, but half a dozen of my friends who know just how much I’m a stickler for the truth sent me that photo and suggested that I might ‘go on the record’ and tell it like it really is. They know about the years I spent in Alaska and my friends said that it is my civic duty to set some things straight, so that’s what I’m going to try and do, at least as far as the common Alaska variety goes.
People tell about how big Alaska mosquitoes are. My first year in Alaska an old sourdough bush pilot tried this one out on me thinking that I’d be gullible enough to believe nonsense like, ” I saw a mosquito land at the Fairbanks airport, and the ground crew filled it up with jet fuel and changed it’s spark plugs before they realized what it was.” What bull!
So now the truth. Alaska mosquitos really aren’t that big at all. The one that flew in my cabin window and snatched a #10 can of beans was at least two pounds smaller than the turkey I cooked for Thanksgiving that fall. Alaskans like to brag about how tough and strong their mosquitoes are. Believe me, they’re not that tough. An hour after he flew off with my beans that mosquito had to come all the way back to get a can-opener.
But I did have some really bad trouble with mosquitos my second summer though. You know, if you live in the wilderness it’s crucial to keep your tools sharp. So one of the first things I bought myself that first winter was a grindstone for just such purposes. When the mosquitoes returned from their migrations that next summer, here came that same mosquito that stole my beans. I could tell it was him because he wasn’t just buzzing, he was farting up quite a storm. I guess he didn’t want to bother with can openers anymore and thought that grindstone would be just the thing to put a fine edge on his bill. And off he flew with it.
For some reason that particular mosquito must have taken some kind of personal dislike towards me. Later that summer I was out in the yard washing my clothes. I didn’t have any electricity out there at my cabin and I was using a big old metal washtub. I heard a deafening buzz and then just as clear as a bell I heard him say, ”I’m BAAACK! “His intentions were clear- he was on a straight course towards the top of my head. There was no time to think. I just grabbed that washtub, dumped out the dirty water, and put it over my head for protection.
That’s when I heard a terrible hammering, loud as thunder. That blood sucker was drilling straight through the washtub. And on account of him having my grindstone, his bill were sharp enough to do the job in a hurry. In no time at all his bills was clear through the metal and starting on my skull. But I was well on the way to becoming a sure enough sourdough myself, learning to live in the wilderness and prepared for just about any eventuality. I always kept a leather-man tool on my belt, even when I was in bed, so I reached for it quick, unfolded the pliers, lifted the washtub just enough and to bent that deadly bill snug up against the inside of the washtub. Now that little devil was stuck tight. I had him!
Or so I thought. Well his bill was stuck but his wings were still free. I have to admit to a certain admiration for that little mosquito. Desperate as his situation seemed, he didn’t give up. He began flapping his wings with all his might and before I knew it he picked up the washtub and me right with it and headed south. I don’t know how he knew it was going to be an early winter, but he knew and he just kept flying non- stop for two weeks and a day until the finally ran out of steam and landed. Fortunately, I knew just where I was. Spring Valley New York where I grew up. That mosquito had deposited me right in my parent’s back yard on Willow Tree Road. Right then though, I made my big mistake. I guess I felt a little sorry for that mosquito , He looked just about plum worn out and he still had a considerable way to go to reach warm weather. Truth is, I’d grown fond of him during our passage. So I decided to straighten out his bill and set him free. I watched him wobble off looking somewhat dazed an confused.
I had a good visit with my parents. I knew they worried about me and I did my best to reassure them that I was doing just fine up there in the Last Frontier. You know what the best part of my visit was? Catching those late summer fireflies just like I used to do when I was a little kid. They don’t have fireflies in Alaska. I wasn’t quite as fast as I had been but I still caught a good jarful. Of course I let them go after I used them for some late night reading.
But this is where letting that mosquito go came back to haunt me. I reckon that an Alaskan Mosquito had never set eyes on a New York Firefly before, and the best I can figure it, when that mosquito set eyes on one of those lightning bugs, it must have been love at first sight. Because a couple of weeks later, just as I was thinking it was time to get back to Alaska, I was sitting around late one night on the back porch Here came a whole squadron of mosquitoes, and every one of those mosquitoes had bioluminescent green headlamps and bills to match. I knew in a flash what had happened. My mosquito had mated with a firefly and these were the offspring. I can’t say for sure whether it was nature or nurture but it was clear to me that these Fire-Skeeters were looking for me and their intentions were not kindly. It was time for some more quick thinking.
“Quick Dad, throw me the keys to the car,” I screamed. He could tell by the tone of my voice that this was no time to ask questions, so he tossed me the keys to the Rambler, I made a dash to the car, waved goodbye, and started driving North on the New York State Thruway. I was on my way home. But and those fire-mosquitoes were on a mission and they chased me the whole way. Somewhere near Milwaukee, they realized they could slow me up by puncturing my tires, so I had to stop about every ten miles and spray the tires with mosquito repellent to keep them at a distance. That slowed me down some. By the time I got home there was four feet of snow piled up around my cabin. Those mosquitoes were cold and discouraged and sat down together in a huddle to make plans for the winter.
Unfortunately, because I was gone so long, I hadn’t had time to cut firewood. And it was cold. I quickly assessed the situation and realized that a great opportunity was right at hand. While those Fire/Skeeters were distracted with their deliberations I snuck up on them and snapped off all their bills and then stacked em up in the woodshed- must have been a good three or four cords. I remembered to leave a few intact for future purposes. Whenever I needed fire for the rest of the winter I just thawed one out and stuck it in the stove or fireplace.They burned with a beautiful greenish flame. I kind of missed the crackle of spruce and birch wood, but after awhile I got used to the buzzing of the fire.
Next spring when the mosquitoes came out I knew the “survivors” would be back for me and at me. Just about the time I figured they would arrive I took to sitting in the car as bait and waiting for them to show up. I was watching the Aurora Borealis dancing in the sky one night when I noticed a matching light veer off and head my way. It was one of those green-eyed green -billed Fire-Skeeters and just like I planned I jumped in the car and waited for it to drill its way through the roof to get at my head. I used my trusty leather-man, it had never left my side, and fastened him tight just like I did with the washtub. Then I had him fly the car back to dad. He knew just where to go because what I forgot to mention before was that that original mosquito didn’t just fall in love with the firefly. There was a menage-a trois going on with a homing pigeon that my parent’s neighbor kept. So that was a Homing Fire-Skeeter I sent on it’s way. The car got there in good shape. But Ramblers were heavy cars, and the mosquitoes were so tuckered out by the time they got there they were nothing but skin and bones. Dad saved one of their leg bones and mailed it to me. Got it right here in my pocket. Ask me about it if you see me and I’ll be glad to show it to you.
Well, that’s about all I can tell you about Alaska mosquitoes so I hope now you won’t believe any of those exaggerations that so many people indulge in. Being a responsible storyteller, it’s important to me to stick to the truth. My reputation depends on it.