Of Biting Bugs and Gopher Wood

Nature does nothing uselessly. — Aristotle

marsh1
Southeast Texas Salt Marsh

Barrier islands in the United States are typically backed by marshland. The marshes have their own magic and sometimes standing on the edge and looking out over the wide stretch of grass and calm, shallow water is as mesmerizing as staring at the sea. Unfortunately, mosquitoes love it just as much as we do. Much of the year, mosquitoes breed in manageable numbers in the marsh because these the tidal flats the constant influx of salt water discourages their activity. A little rain will trigger a breeding episode but not too extensively. A lot of rain, on the other hand…

Recently we had been in what amounted to a short drought and there was nary a mosquito to be found on the island all summer. It was lovely and hot and dry and we were okay with that even if the grass was browning and a burn ban was in effect. True, a little rain would have been nice to ease the heat. True, the sea was bathwater warm and primed for hurricanes. Still, the lack of mosquitoes made for a decent trade-off.

My husband and I set up to have family and friends visit for the middle of September. Normally this was a good time of year, still plenty warm to swim and often partly cloudy so you don’t keel over from baking in the sun.

As you might guess by the tone of the first three paragraphs, we had two straight weeks of rain before the gathering. The daily rains, some of them hours-long downpours, created freshwater ponding throughout the village and flushed the salt from the marshes enough to make the mosquitoes extremely fecund. The swarms grew out of control and with rain every day, aerial spraying became impossible.

Everyone who lives here, and in most of the Southeast Texas area, walked around saturated in “swamp cologne” (insect repellent) of one kind or another and the guy you saw walking down the road talking to himself and slapping himself was completely sane. Around here, it’s called “the Surfside dance.”

Look on social media and you will find a variety of all-natural recipes for fending off the blighters. I tried three “natural” formulas for protecting my dog. One was the equivalent of mosquito bait as far as I could tell and poor Big Dog carried twenty to thirty mosquitoes back upstairs with him while I frantically slapped his legs and belly. The look of betrayal in his tired, old eyes will never leave me. Another formula managed to slow the biting down for a day or so, then the mosquitoes apparently had a conference and decided that whatever that pine scented stuff was, certainly it wasn’t harmful. They went back on the attack. To BD’s dismay, I returned to chemical warfare, using a biting fly repellent made for horses, cows, and dogs. BD hates it. I hate using it. But, the mosquitoes hate it, as well. At least now I have less fear that my poor, old dog isn’t going to get some horrid disease because of the swarm.

The visit from family and friends went off well enough. That Saturday was blessedly blustery, blowing many of the pests inland. Sunday was dead calm between squalls and we all got our workouts just dashing back and forth from the beach to the house or to and from our cars either avoiding mosquitoes or rain.

Two weeks later it was still raining daily and my husband and I discussed whose arm we would use in determining the length of a cubit. Also, with gopher wood being not-so readily available, what was our best alternative? We ruled out inviting mosquitoes on the boat. Bats and dragonflies are welcome.

After nearly a month of misery, a strange yellow orb finally appeared in the morning sky.

IMG_5677-1

The mosquito/toad hatchery has begun drying up. As the sun warms the dunes, the camphor weed breathes its tangy scent into the breeze and brings to mind childhood days of healing balms and parental love. Bees are zipping among late flowers and birds are snapping up the remaining tadpoles in the shrinking ponds. Miserable though the rain may have been in some respects, there is bounty in it for others. As with all things nature has to offer, it was neither good nor evil, it simply “was” and will be again.

923_18flw
Camphor Weed (Heterotheca subaxillaris)
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Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and Bee

 

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