There are some who are saying this year’s crop of mosquitoes is the worst they’ve seen. Ever. I’m not certain; can I trust their memories? Memory can fool us. Could it be that mosquito numbers grow the same way as fish, the ones caught long ago as runts that now loom as leviathans? Memory can be like that: more malleable than we’d like to think, more shifting sand than bedrock.
You can’t really quantify mosquito numbers. There is no scale; there is no standard. It’s not like snow. You can measure snow. Not like cold-cold has numbers. So does heat. Mosquitoes? No numbers, no scales, no nothing, just memories of years past and I’m not going to bank on that.
For now, I’m not saying yes; I’m not saying no to the record numbers. But I am saying there are mosquitoes this year and I am saying that there are a lot of them.
They are bad enough that last week when we wanted to take the dogs for a run, we nixed the drive to the hunting shack, given that nearby low-lying marsh and bog provide buggy nurseries for mosquitoes. No, we wised up and drove instead just out of town to the expanse of mowed field at Nicolet College, where the pups could run their fool heads off and we could walk unbothered by bites and the grating buzzing of mosquito wings.
The dogs seemed to recognize where we were and as we approached the turn to the field, Thor began howling with excitement. We encouraged him to settle down; he ignored us. Riika, alerted by his yowling, chimed in with a series of sharp, ear-piercing barks. The combination of dog vocals had us on edge as Sally pulled the car into the lot and slammed on the brakes.
We opened the doors and the dogs, now silent as if their efforts to alert us had succeeded to their satisfaction, bolted from the car and sprinted into the field at full throttle. Sally and I hastened from the car; she hit the auto lock and tossed me the keys for safe keeping. Then we hurried after the dogs.
The twosome was 100 yards out and making for the distant trees; I blew the whistle loud and hard. Miraculously, both dogs turned back in our general direction and we were able to close the gap to a reasonable distance. Sally and I relaxed, took a deep breath or two, and began to enjoy the time with our dogs.
And what a time it was! The sun was still blazing and while the air was cool, it was pleasant. The field was alight with acres of dandelions in full bloom, hundreds and hundreds of yellow tops catching the sun. All those yellow blossoms. All of them. Thousands of them. The dogs raced over them and if you squinted your eyes, the yellow dandelions blurred into a constellation.
All those dandelions. And each one, it seemed, held a bumblebee.
I’m sure that’s an exaggeration; not all of them drew bees. But a lot of them did. Big bees; buzzy ones; big, buzzy bees all over the place, buzzing around like little chainsaws, buzzing like a dentist drill. Bees all over the place. Making that buzzing noise wherever they flew. Which was pretty much everywhere.
Sally has an issue with bees. I don’t want to put a real fine line on her issue, but in technical terms it’s best described thusly: Sally is pretty much afraid of bees. A single bee makes her nervous; a few bees make her really nervous. A field full of bees…well, you get the drift.
Sally indicated that perhaps she’d wait for me back at the car and before I could say much, she turned and began a long jog back to the road. I watched her lope away from me and thought, “Nice that she’s running again.” She had registered to ski the Korteloppet next February and I was mightily impressed that she was starting a little fitness program this early. Spurred by her example, I, who had registered the same day for the Birkebeiner, started a slow jog away from her and toward the dogs.
The dogs had slowed a bit, their initial enthusiasm brought to earth by the realization that they, like me, lacked the fitness for a long haul. But they soldiered on and I lumbered in their direction, bees buzzing at every step and, hey, no surprise, the mosquitoes had roused from their late afternoon lethargy and were out in force.
We reached the far side of the field, fully a quarter-mile away from the car, and in the distance I could see Sally standing on the distant road. Was she waving at me? Looked like she was so I waved back, then turned to the dogs who had picked up the pace again.
The three of us, Riika, Thor and I, did a long, slow traverse along the far edge of the field, dodging bees, swatting the occasional mosquito, enjoying the time outside. Clouds had moved in now; it looked like weather coming. We turned back toward the car.
I jogged a bit, slowed until the mosquitoes drew down around me, then jogged some more. I could see Sally on the road. Be darned, I thought, now she was running along the road! What a trooper! She was serious about getting into shape! She saw me and waved, both arms over her head, arms back-and-forth. I waved back (“Nice work, Sal”), then slowed to a walk as the dogs found a gopher hole and began an excavation project. Chunks of dirt flew like skyrockets.
I gathered them back, turned to the road again and saw Sally was now jogging back toward the car. I waved back to her and thought, “This is sure fun; we need to do this more often.” Then I slapped another mosquito and picked up the pace.
By now, we were closer and Sally ran back along the road and seemed to be saying something. Too far out for me to hear a thing, but I guessed she was encouraging me to pick up the pace so I did just that. Probably telling me that I looked good running or something. She was also waving, happily, it seemed. I was pleased she was having fun.
We were finally close enough that if I stopped, slowed down and caught my breath, if I did that, I might make out her cheery greeting. I did just that and stood, ear cocked toward her as she waved enthusiastically at me. Now, what was it she was saying?
“Give”-I got that. “Me”-that I got. “The. Keys.” What? I shrugged and put my hand to my ears, pantomiming that I’d not heard. Now I heard it, very loud and very clear: “GIVE ME THE KEYS.”
Ah, the keys. The car keys. The ones she’d given to me when we parked the car. The ones she could use to get in the car. To get in the car so that she could get away from the bees and the mosquitoes. Those keys. The ones in my pocket.
I made some haste now, hitting the remote from some distance away and Sally opened the door, jumped inside then slammed the door behind her. I joined her a minute later, told her, “Hey, you were looking good with all that running. Fun, wasn’t it?”
But she did not seem happy.
She showed me the welt where the bee had stung her. It was big and red, looked pretty painful. She told me of the swarms of mosquitoes that lurked near the road, black clouds of them; told me how she took to running to get away from them, swatting at them all the while. Told me how she could not get in the car, told how she’d yelled to me and hadn’t I seen her wave me in? Hadn’t I heard her?
It was a quiet drive home. I didn’t have much to say. The dogs were silent; they can sense when it’s best to keep quiet. The only sound out of place was the sound of a mosquito near my ear. They’re pretty bad this year-worst ever, some will tell you.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander. Call (715) 362-5800. To comment on this story, visit StarJournalNow.com.