The Culex mosquito-borne West Nile virus has been much in the news lately, accompanied by hand-wringing, chest pounding, and gnashing of teeth by garden bloggers, environmentalists, and dragon fly enthusiasts screeching in unison about the evils of DEET and its sprayed application over wide areas: how it will knock down beneficial insects, schoolchildren’s test scores, and vaporize every unsuspecting pocket dog set down on the ground to pee. Never mind those few unlucky individuals who contract the virus; sometimes the human herd needs to be culled.
I’ve just come inside from my notgarden, because I have been most thoroughly sucked by every female mosquito within a one-mile radius. It is a very rare occasion when I can go outside and not be set upon by these thirsty mothers (or mothers-to-be). Almost never can I venture out of doors without first saturating myself or clothing with repellent; what possessed me to do so today will likely remain one of the great unanswered questions of my life, along with “why did I sell my moped?” But this morning I went to the notgarden to tidy its unruly minty locks, wearing long pants and an oversized, light-colored tee shirt. No perfume, no hairspray, no deodorant was present to attract unwanted guests. I spent 45 minutes outside and thought I might be holding my own against the mosquitoes since I didn’t see any landing on me.
Wiley beasties, they be.
I have a bite on my ass large enough to be a third cheek, administered through my pants and underwear; bites on my elbows, on the inside of my thighs, on my knees- — all accomplished by that needle-nose poked through fabric. I stopped counting the bites on my exposed forearms because the tally ups the itch factor. When I serve as an entree to insects in this way, the bites swell significantly and I shake as if in shock. My only recourse is a swift retreat to the indoors followed by a calming down period as the swelling levels off and receeds.
Organic or natural mosquito repellents such as Skin So Soft, cedar oil, and citronella are commonly cited as viable alternatives to products containing DEET. Using those products on my skin is akin to placing salt around the rim of a margarita; they aid in transforming me into a mosquito libation. Even DEET is not 100% effective for me, but it is BY FAR the most effective means I have of being able to go outdoors comfortably. The environment in which I reside is damp, if not outright wet. My neighborhood is heavily wooded and admits little sunlight. Leaf litter, renewed most generously and most constantly, provides an excellent source of housing for mother mosquito. I’ve wondered at times why I so rarely see anyone outside near my residence; perhaps the answer lies in the insect population.
I want those people advocating the exclusive use of organic or natural insect repellents to come to my neighborhood, get in my skin, and stand in the middle of my back yard for five minutes. I want them to see just how impossible it is to eliminate all sources of standing water in an area like this. I want them to try to remove the many years’ worth of leaves and debris that host the mosquitoes. They’ll be lucky, since my geographical location hosts little West Nile virus, so they won’t have much chance of having to endure its fever, vomiting, anorexia, or myalgia, or its possble repurcussions such as meningitis or encephalitis.
While those folks are standing out there in my doppelganger giving blood and starting to itch and swell, I’ll be spraying my real self with Deep Woods Off as I prepare to finish weeding the remaining half of the notgarden.