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Mosquitos, More Mosquitos, and a Three-legged Dog.

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
August 12, 1999

 

I'm not sure why Utah is referred to as the Beehive state;not only did I not see any beehives, I never actually saw a bee. Nor did I see many human beings outside of European tourists and the occasional locals. From this point forward when I mention that there is no open space, I am not referring to southwest Utah.

Inhabited as early as 9000 BC, Utah has always been a beautifully harsh, high desert environment. Perhaps it is for this reason the area remains mostly undeveloped. From the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, the moonscape of Capital Reef, and the wind-carved artistry of Arches, there is the ever present reminder that nature is in charge here.

The Green River is no different. Although the geologic grandeur of the place is matched only by the clash of elements still shaping Desolation Canyon,the most daunting of all environmental challenges came in the form of a relatively small insect with a taste for blood. Rafting was the easy part, camping was when things got ugly.

As far as I know mosquitos have always been a part of Utah's biotic community. Unfortunately, according to river guides and park rangers, since the introduction of the Tamarisk plant, mosquito populations have increased considerably. The first two days on the river had me wishing for DDT and Napalm.

My true test of character involved enjoying nature, in all its complexities, while including the species that see humans as lunch. My first clue to what lay ahead, was seeing our river guide waiting for us wearing a mosquito net. The question of whether to pesticide or not to pesticide was just a matter of degree. I covered myself with a concoction called Natrapel, which basically made me smell like a walking Citronella candle, and headed into the wilderness.

The put in point was a sandy beach surrounded on three sides by the invasive tamarisk, in other words a mosquito paradise. Moving as fast as they could, our guides and other rafters loaded boats, as the ranger rapidly recited the rules of the river. This could have been a "Laverne and Shirley" moment except for the two dogs on the beach. One of the dogs was a three legged Pit Bull bouncing around the beach as if a fourth leg was never even considered. And a second puppy, tethered to a sign while his humans were busy, was being feasted on by the aforementioned mosquito colony. The cries of this young husky are something that will always be with me.  

Opposable thumbs are such a blessing, I had the freedom to swat myself with a tamarisk branch, and apply more herbal goo. My friends, experiencing more freedom than I, did me one better and broke out the killer pesticide in the pump bottle. Try as we might, our chemical clouds were nothing more than a deterrent.

As we left the beach, I couldn't take my eyes off the three-legged dog. At first I thought this was an omen, and an ill one and that. Feeling like my friends and I were heading into a really cheesy horror flick, I was never more aware of where I stood in the food chain. As a vegan, it is important for me not to kill other animals, especially in pursuit of a wilderness experience, but I figured that this time as good as any to employ a little Darwinism. Although I got past my desire for DDT, I was not beyond hand to hand combat. As far as I was concerned the fittest mosquitos were the ones that didn't see me as a Quiki-Mart. Retaining one's vegan principles is impossible when battling mosquitos. I'm proud to say I gave as good as I got.

Somewhere around the third day of the trip I came to terms with the mosquitos, realizing they had as much right as I did to exist, and in fact that they were there first. Once again I was acting like an ungrateful tourist, complaining about the natives and plotting how the place could be improved. Having had that revelation, I was no longer expecting a Disney experience, and was able to coexist with the insects without wishing them all eradicated.

I do plan to go river rafting in the future, the next time being better prepared. Instead of bringing all sorts of chemical repellents and pesticides, I plan to pack a body size mosquito net that can be warn as a protective barrier. This might not be fashionable, and even uncomfortable, but I will sleep better knowing that I have not doused the environment, and my body, with chemicals designed for the sole purpose of killing.

 
 
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