To Deet, or not to Deet…is not really the question, but to suffer the nuisance of roving bands of mosquitoes, or dowse yourself in chemical repellants, is at least a matter for consideration. Actually, it’s an absolute imperative, and walking into the first leg of our three day adventure into Michigan’s Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park, my philosophical musings as to the nature of this trip evaporate, and I am immediately reminded of the fact that philosophy is a leisurely sport, and that all this nature business is maybe not all it’s cracked up to be.
We envision, some of us anyways, a return to nature; or nature as a place of refuge, a place for solace, away from the frenetic pace and the technocratic grind. Away from the traffic, smart phones, passwords, slow servers, political newsfeeds – somewhere off the grid, if only for a short while. Natural settings relax us, they say, make us feel better about things; less hyperactive, more focused. And though that may be the case, and indeed I believe it to be true, never do you hear mention of the mosquitoes.
So yes, my wife and I, with our tiny, yet capable, rat terrier Lucy, enter Deetless into the woods, and the mosquitoes are relentless. Within seconds, a cohort of representatives from each of the 60 different species residing in Michigan announce themselves, in unison, to our eyes, ears, arms, and through our clothing. Needless to say: Deet application promptly ensues, and it then goes like this: hiking along, watching your step, pack on your back, incessant whine in your ears – swat! – and then, silence.
The high pitched scree of mosquito wings beating 400 to 600 times per second in my ears is maddening. I have learned that male and female mosquitoes modulate their wingbeats to create in-flight harmonies during copulation, which is mysterious and wild, but I can not abide by the music of mosquito love. This being said, what happens when you swat them away creates a contrast of experience that seems significant, yet unnameable.
The silence opens, and there is the sound of the forest. The rustle of chipmunks and small red squirrels as they scurry about the forest floor; what is perhaps a Fowlers toad hopping through the leaves; thrushes, warblers, cardinals, and the occasional knock and rhythm of maybe a Pileated woodpecker, pounding upon a bleached and hollowed oak, flow into the auditory space once occupied by the mosquitoes.
It doesn’t take long for the whining to begin again, gradually at first, building towards another exasperating crescendo, but during this brief reprieve, the purpose of this excursion begins to reveal itself.