Outdoor Adventure: Battling mosquitoes to get that perfect picture
There are those who will tell you that the mosquitoes are past their peak. There are those who say that it is safe to venture out without lathering and slathering with all manner of bug repellents. There are those who will postulate that no longer will the sweet scent of Citronella or the acrid fumes of DEET hover around our persons as an aura of light and life.
Those who so believe call out sighting of legions of dragon flies. The latter devour mosquitoes; their appearance is seen as a harbinger of better times, bugwise. Those true believers of reduced numbers of mosquitoes point to the zig-zag flight of the dragon flies, smile in satisfaction, find comfort in their numbers.
So yes, there are those who say the mosquitoes are now bearable, that their numbers have waned in the latter days of June.
And to this I say: Do not believe them. Not for a single minute. Not for a single heartbeat. Not for a single CO2 laden breath.
I, fool that I am, believed. I, gullible even at my advanced age, was convinced. I bought into it, into the myth of the tailing off numbers. So on Wednesday afternoon, on my day off I drove into the deep woods on roadways narrow and overhung with green.
It was a day of some gloom; it had rained and the clouds had not lifted, only drawn down and the woods to the sides of the road were heavy in rich green and glowering shadow as if holding a vague menace, as if a good dream was turning bad.
A digression: About the rain. One does not hear talk of late of the drought that lay heavy on the land only a year or two back. There is, instead, talk of lake levels on the rise, of ground water recharging, of rivers and flowages looking healthy once again. The rain of spring and summer followed the near-record snows of winter; every low spot in the Northwoods held water this spring. Every bog was full; every ditch and drainage filled.
Which brings us back to the mosquitoes, for all that water gave perfect conditions for them. On Memorial Day weekend, the mosquitoes flew up from the low-lying water and looked for dinner.
There are people who have lived here for a long time who say they never saw them as bad. There are those who have traveled north, Canada, Alaska, where clouds of mosquitoes are the stuff of legend and some have said they have been reminded of those places. On the good days, the mosquitoes have been bad; on the bad days they have been terrible.
So when some said they were on the slide down, it was good news.
Back to the drive down the gloomy woods roads. I was optimistic that the mosquito numbers were down. But I was not foolish and on the passenger seat was a pump bottle of DEET, 100 percent proof.
I planned to stop at some old familiar places and take camera from truck, set it on tripod and get some photos. Nothing particular, just some images of the deep and rich greens of summer, perhaps a flower or two to add some color. I’d stop at a few small lakes and ponds to see what they might offer up. I’d do all that and have a relaxing time of it.
It was a good plan; really was.
I pulled the truck off the side of the road just past a small stream and strolled back, camera in hand, DEET in the truck. And the mosquitoes came down like a cloud coming to ground, huge swarms of them. I will say only that my return to the relative safety of the truck was done in far shorter time than my departure.
I slammed the door; mosquitoes were trapped by the dozen in the cab. I turned on the ignition, floored it; nothing. Nothing save for the sound of whining tires for I’d eased it off the road into muck when I parked.
Quick, shift to park, into four-wheel drive, ease it down, feel the tires grip, slip, then grip again and I was back on the firm gravel. I rolled down the windows, turned on the defrost, hit the fan and let it roar as I fishtailed it down the old road.
It worked. The mosquitoes blew out, the cab was bug-free, I was none the worse for it all.
The next time I pulled over I reached for the DEET, sprayed in on shirtsleeves and cap and stepped out. It was better but it was still not good. The mosquitoes greeted me. I carried camera and tripod and knelt to use them. And the bugs came down and I said, “Maybe this is not a good photo after all” and fled once again to the truck.
Another session with window and blower and defrost as I roared down the road, gravel spitting behind me as tires found traction.
Another stop; another photo opportunity, this time in a boggy lowland where the rich green of moss contrasted with the glowing pink of a lady slipper. Again the DEET but this time on a bandana that I draped under my cap and over the back of my neck. And thus, with flowing bandana, long-sleeves buttoned down and reeking of DEET I stepped in the soggy moss and made my way into the gloom.
I like lady slippers; the thin stem, the special pink of the flower, the green of leaf and stem; it is unique and in that it is special. They grow low to the ground and I put the tripod legs to their lowest position and then lay low myself to get eye to viewfinder and compose the shot. The moss was saturated and I was soaked in an instant.
I found the flower in the small viewfinder, adjusted focus and exposure. There was the tiny whine of mosquitos on the wing and I realized too late that my hands were exposed for as much as I like to use DEET I don’t like it on my skin and on that skin on the back of my hands is where they landed.
So there I was; lying flat in the bog, framing the photo, mosquitoes buzzing about my head and landing on my hands. Is it any wonder that it all seemed less a good idea than it had minutes before? Is it any mystery that the idea of looking for other photos to take lost its appeal?
I got the photo; small pink flower in the world of the deep greens of a Wisconsin bog. The flower seems so small and delicate; the world in which it grows so big and over powering. It’s all there, framed in the photo.
What is not in the photo is the cloud of mosquitoes that hovered about me, droning and buzzing, looking for a place to settle. If you looked at the photo, looked close, you’d not see them at all. If that was the case you might be inclined to accept the word of those who tell you that the mosquito numbers are dropping off, that they’re past their peak. You might believe those people.
A simple word or two of advice: Don’t believe that, not for a minute, not for a heartbeat, not for a CO2 filled, mosquito-attracting breath.
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.