A Quick Stub on Bloodsuckers

Days were regularly warm now. At night the lightning bugs lit up the darkness with their familiar space alien green florescence. Except for lightning bugs, I never met a bug I liked. Most of my life I have been scared of spiders. Yet one humid morning in Pennsylvania I woke up in my sleeping bag. There had been tenters in the area that night, but I had the shelter to myself. The mosquitoes had been bad lately and I resorted to wrapping a net around my head to sleep at night. I unwrapped myself this particular morning and the light was good enough to notice dozens (at least fifty!) spiders in the various crooks, cracks and corners of the shelter. Some were quite small but others had big hanging Romanesque asses and Gothic legs, and their vast webs caught the early light on the dew that hung on its silky strands. These webs were filled with the arms and legs and antennae of consumed mosquitoes. I have been on cordial terms with spiders ever since.

I suspect the mosquito is the reason why our earliest ancestors had to leave the trees. The original bloodsucker in the Garden of Eden, that son of a vampire probably pinned that whole temptation rap on the serpent to begin with, and even if there is no hell, summer becomes a hell when clouds of mosquitoes appear. Today, we enjoy cures and treatments for mosquito born illness; we enjoy window screens and artificial indoor atmosphere. Step out into the eastern woodland from that fake air in the warm months, and your sweet blood will draw them. If you hike long enough on the AT, you may find yourself with mangled bug arms and your own blood tangled in the hairs of your arms after you slap another one dead. The ones that get a good drink always make a better splatter.

The woods are filled with bloodsuckers. Ticks pose the greatest risk as carriers of Lyme Disease which has ended many a hike. Because of this, I prefer to treat my clothes with permithrin on a long hike. When the bloodsuckers are out in force, I fill in everything else with deet. There is a special satisfaction in shaking out the corpses of ticks who were poisoned crawling up my socks. Still, I suppose bloodsucking insects remind us that nature rewards opportunity feeders, and though we hikers may have nightmares about lions and tigers and bears, it is in most cases, tiny insects and even smaller microbes that do the most feeding on us.

That a NOBO thru hike of the Appalachian Trail finds the thickest clouds of mosquitoes and the most disease ridden ticks in the mid Atlantic states is in no way a fact of congruence with the character of the people in that region– with the possible exception of Connecticut. My commentary on the Nutmeg State here is offered in jest, but the skeeters there ate me alive. We must also remember that the first case of Lyme Disease was also discovered there. Just saying. New York is full of blood suckers. I know this as a native. When New York gets too full of bloodsuckers, they send some over to Connecticut. New Jersey tried to get a great beast to eat all their mosquitoes by electing him Governor, but it didn’t work. Hard to put mayo on a mosquito. But I digress.

So while I sit behind a screen and a fan tonight in Georgia, and with a cool spring bound to break into summer any day now, I think of all the poor hiker trash up in the mountains tonight and hope they are geared up for the coming insects. Mount Greylock, Massachusetts marks the end of the mid Atlantic climate and heralds the higher altitudes and cooler nights of upper New England. There’s ice cream, deli sandwiches and pizza on the way. Gotta make more blood for the blood suckers. Happy Trails.

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