Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Reader

Most of us have now had our first inoculations. I’ve been privileged in having my shots administered right here at home. In fact, I have already received numerous jabs from the swarms of front-line workers that inhabit the swamp. Some say that a side effect of those who are subject to multiple injections by mosquitoes and black flies is the tendency to exaggerate.

Some reach a state of delirious ultra-reality. You can be the judge of that. I always look for the truth in the mundane. Mosquitoes, like the Canadian Blood Services, are always looking for new donors.

Every spring, we can begin to hear a small voice coming into the darkness of our bedrooms. Sleep keeps her distance; she too wants to listen for that distinctive sound. Is the hum coming from within or without our minds?

There is no safe place to hide. In my darkness below the covers, I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but they can see. Oh, what do you want with a wretch like me? Let me sleep, torment me no more.  Is winter my only ally? Is this the summer of my discontent? This resonance of hunger, the irresistible attraction to our blood is what gives purpose to the mosquito. The diminutive, exquisitely crafted irrepressible vampires have returned. The mosquitoes have arrived in their legions, as numerous as the parachuting dandelion seeds flying over our lawns, looking for the perfect place to land. We have been invaded.

Did I ever mention that we live in a swamp?  Many believe that swamps disproportionally harbour mosquitoes and black flies. Balderdash! What rubbish!

Although we indeed used to have eight kids, four of them were selected against by the Darwinian forces that rule the swamp. Four of them were hauled away by swarms of mosquitoes and black flies.

It doesn’t take much; a kid running after a ball into the tall grass next to the swamp is covered by a grey cloud of seething flies, then lifted up and carried away to the great unknown. “Honey, you forgot to chain Gloria to the tree! She’s a goner now. Good thing we didn’t pay for the ballet lessons yet. How many do we have left? Somebody has to inherit this swamp. Some of us have to survive to feed the bloodsucking mosquitoes to keep this unique wetland niche in the biome alive.”

Mosquitoes hardly bother me. My bride says that I have something in my sweat that keeps mosquitoes and people away from me. I love having visitors on the deck. Mosquitoes will bit me only if they have no other options.

They’re like kids who will eat the spinach if nothing else is offered. Visitors are like doughnuts. The mosquitoes always select visitors for their next meal. Mosquitoes know that it is in their best interest to keep me alive for future considerations. After all, two zillions of them have my blood flowing through their veins.

When the swallows eat them, some of my blood becomes a swallow. Frogs and dragonflies thrive on my indirect source of blood. Fish eat their larva. We’re all family and proof that all creatures are related in the great Cosmos we all live in. We are all one spirit. My relations live in the swamps around us. One of the reasons the Creator made mosquitoes was to help us become integrated into the life force that surrounds us.

Mosquitoes get bigger the farther north you go. People tell us they caught mosquitos bigger than any fish we have seen them catch. The mosquito stories are incredible.  In most of the boreal forest areas, people take a net with 1 cm square holes, allowing smaller mosquitoes and black flies to pass through while retaining the larger ones.

The larger ones are about the size of small salad shrimp and can be prepared similarly.

Bubba, in the movie Forrest Gump, describes it best. “Anyway, like I was sayin’, mosquitoes is the fruit of the swamps. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. Dey’s uh, mosquito-kabobs, creoles, mosquito gumbo. Pan-fried, deep-fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple mosquito, lemon, coconut, pepper, mosquito soup, mosquito stew, mosquito salad, mosquito and potatoes, mosquito burger, mosquito sandwich. That- that’s about it.

Further north, in places like Yellowknife or Whitehorse, hunt camps cater to wealthy American tourists who fly in for big game mosquito hunting. A small squadron of these mosquitoes can take down a bull moose. After the buffalo were virtually eliminated in the west, hunters headed north. They almost destroyed the Giant Northern Mosquito while killing off the last of the Passenger Pigeons. Hunting is severely regulated, and you must get a permit and hire a local guide. The whole expedition can easily cost $10’000. You may have seen Giant Mosquito heads mounted on the walls of hunting lodges, although, in recent times, taxidermy is no longer in vogue.

I’ve seen Giant Northern Mosquitoes landing at the local airport in Yellowknife like small airplanes. For $10 dollars, you can buy a seat in a caged grandstand and watch the highway department feed roadkill to the Giants. Bring your own food, the concession prices are outrageous!

While teaching, I had a student from India whose mother complained about our lack of discipline in Canada compared to India. Her daughter wanted her family to be more Canadian. The mother asked, “How do we become more Canadian? Do we give up on discipline and accept B’s on report cards?” I said, “Take the family camping up in Algonquin Park. Go for hikes, build a campfire, and go canoeing. You can borrow my equipment if you want.” The family went camping; the daughter loved every minute of it, the mother, not so much.

The following fall, I met the mother and asked how the camping went. She said,” I think you were trying to get us killed! We survived, and we’re real Canadians now. We know all about mosquitoes and their friends, the black flies. I sat in the tent for two days to escape the rain and mosquitoes, smelled like smoke, got poison ivy and tipped the canoe. I returned home to my clean bed with fresh sheets, had a long hot bath with perfumes and scratched camping off my list. Next year my husband can take them! The worst part by far was the mosquitoes! I’ll find other ways to be Canadian. Does Canada have a cricket team I can become a fan of?

A disproportional amount of our memories are of summer. People with cottages speak glowingly of family times at the lake. These are the memories that last a lifetime. Summer encompasses the great outdoors and laughter. There may be a fly in the ointment from time to time; however, life is like that. Perfect reality existed while I was teaching math. There is always a correct ideal answer. In summer, we fall in love with life that is rough around the edges, the odd thundercloud, days that are too hot, and yes, the mosquitoes.

I love summer, the swamp, the frogs, and the flowers. Loving mosquitoes is a bit of a stretch at the moment. I like them best in January when I dream of summer. Mosquitoes help me love winter. The mosquitoes must fly south with the geese. To everything there is a season.