The Mosquito Refuge

Mosquito-02I live next to a wildlife refuge. It is one of the reason I moved here.

Silly me.

When I first saw the place, I had visions of white tail deer bounding gracefully across the prairie as ravenous coyotes snapped at their heels.

But such bucolic scenes were not to be.

The refuge next door is solely for mosquitoes. Or so it seems. They are so thick out there that the only wildlife who can stand to be with them, is themselves.

And these guys are ferocious.

Mark Twain once wrote of mosquitoes, “two could whip a dog and four could hold down a man.” He was of course referring to the more gentile southern mosquito. Ours can put a cow in a leg lock – and they have six legs.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) swears that the refuge was not intended for mosquitoes – but considering the insect is the Minnesota state bird, I wouldn’t put it past them.

They breed gazillions of them out there and given that the prevailing wind is from the northwest, my yard is the first stop on their great circle of life.

It makes our summers unbearable and this summer has been the worst. We had a wet May, followed by a wet June – and we now have more mosquitoes than anyone deserves…

So I talk to people about the problem.  When I ask what I should do, the remedies range from the mundane to the bizarre.

One guys tells me to burn pinion wood. When I ask where I can get some, he shrugs.

Another guy suggests I mix a third of a gallon of epson salts with a third of a gallon of mouth wash and top it off with stale beer.  When I ask what I then should do with the concoction, he looks confused.

A woman down the roads suggests I plant rosemary, horsemint, lemon-scented geranium or of all things, catnip around my house. When I point out that it is too late in the season for that, she turns away in disgust.

Everyone has their favorites but when I ask them what works best, they just shrug. So I changed my approach.

I stopped asking what I should use and instead ask what they use.


The people who live closest to the mosquito refuge, swear by charcoal. Once they spread it around their yards, their houses become islands in the sea of mosquitoes.

So I bought a bag of charcoal – but I hardly got it out of my truck before the mosquitoes tried to carry me off.

Upon reporting my misadventure … my neighbors stopped me after the first sentence. No, they said, you can’t use ordinary grilling charcoal, you have to use charcoal made from the local white oak trees.  It is an ancient Lakota remedy, they said.

“So where do I get it?” I asked.

“Talk to Herbie,” they say, “he will fix you up.”

So I went to talk to Herbie.  

The man is a character, a resource small towns have an abundance of.  Our particular character happens to be an old hippie who lives a few miles south of Almost Iowa. You can drive to his place in a few minutes – but you might want to take a time-machine instead.  Going there is like stepping back into 1966. That is the year he established a sawmill to harvest the hardwoods that grow along the Cedar River and nothing about him or his place has changed since.

Naturally, he lives in a dome home. One whose patches and quick repairs testify to the Midwestern wisdom of avoiding any idea that originates on the coasts.

When I pulled into his yard, his old dog sounded the alarm and Herbie came out to greet me. The man was a delight.

His eyes twinkled from a lifetime of seeing colors few of us will ever know and his smile reflected the joy of someone who discovers new and wondrous things every day.  In short, Herbie is the kind of endangered species the DNR should be preserving instead of mosquitoes.

He nodded along knowingly as I told him about my situation and when I was done he went into his dome and came back with a cloth bag full of charcoal briquettes.

Being a geek, I had to ask, “How does it work?”

He looked confused.

I waved a hand at his gardens and asked, “Do you treat the wood with herbs or…”

It was like a light came on in his eyes.

“Oh, you want to know what I soak the charcoal in.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“DEET,” he said, “I buy it by the gallon from Amazon.”


NOTE: My header image is a view of my pond looking toward the mosquito refuge.

Author: Almost Iowa

42 thoughts on “The Mosquito Refuge”

  1. I’m totally disillusioned now about bats. When I lived east of St. Paul, a colony of bats occupied our eaves. I always felt so proud on summer nights when they all whooshed down and out at dusk. My own little army of mosquito Terminators! It was pretty to think so.

    1. Shotguns can be effective – but I must caution you, you do not want to wing one. There is nothing so ferocious as a wounded, hell bent on revenge, mosquito.

  2. You have a tractor, don’t you? Modify it with four WW II flamethrowers, on for each side, to create a skeeter free zone as you move around the property. For the house and porch, envelope them with mosquito netting on May 1 and don’t emerge again until the end of July. You’ll be skeeter free and we’ll be able to read more blog entries. A win-win.

  3. The worst mosquitoes we have are the salt-marsh variety. They’re so tiny, but desperately annoying. The one advantage to our 2010-2011 drought was that it put an end to the danged things for a while. I wouldn’t choose drought over mosquitoes, mind you, but it was nice to have them gone.

    Interesting that no one mentioned disease. When I think mosquito, I think malaria, dengue, and Chikungunya. I’ve had malaria, and dengue & Chikungunya are rampant in parts of Central and Latin America right now. As a matter of fact, both have been found in Florida, so it’s only a matter of time.

    Have you read Paul Theroux’s “The Mosquito Coast”? It would be the perfect book for a couple of lazy afternoons in Almost Iowa.. What’s not to like about a story of a modern utopian who carts his family off to Mosquito Coast of Honduras, to recreate the world with the help of an ice plant? I think you’d like it. It’s one I re-read from time to time.

    1. Have you read Paul Theroux’s “The Mosquito Coast”?

      I am a big fan. One might say I went through a Paul Therouix phase in my reading.

      I read Mosquito Coast and watched the film – but like so many book to film stories, my memory of the two has become so intertwined that it is hard to separate them.

  4. How I hate the mosquito. The one thing we didn’t plan for at our late August wedding in Vermont was simply that beastly critter. It made taking outdoor photos quite a challenge. Some opted to stay indoors.

  5. Great post! I spent four years in Iowa, so I know what you are talking about. Sadly, we’ve also had a very wet spring and early summer in Missouri, so the mosquitos here are also out in unusually large numbers. I might have to try soaking some coal in Deet…..

  6. This was great. I’m so sorry they are tormenting you….and I’m hoping you are exaggerating, at least a little. You painted a perfect picture of your interactions. The human ones, that is.

    1. Me exaggerate? Never!

      But this has been an exceptionally bad year for mosquitoes, so bad that I have to bring Scooter in at night.. and he loves being an outside dog.

  7. We have a different wildlife down here in Florida. They are called palmetto bugs but basically they are just big-assed cock roaches. But we don’t try to get rid of them. We raise them on purpose for one purpose. To get the tourists to go home. We have way too many yankees that have settled here as it is.

    1. I shared an apartment with them during my brief time in the sunshine state. I found them to be very friendly and amiable beasts. So much so, that I gave them names took them home with me. Unfortunately, they did not fare well in the Minnesota winter.

  8. My dear Sir, As president of my local chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Improved Understanding of Mosquitoes, (SPIUM) I take strong exception to your article. You might not be aware that mosquitoes are our friends. They have many many noble and valuable qualities. I am happy to hear that the State of Minnesota has recognized this, and devoted a part to their preservation. I perceive a somewhat satirical tone in your remarks, something that I generally despise. Please be so good as to desist immediately from your feeble attempts at killing these wonderful creatures. Meanwhile, our attorneys will be in touch.

    1. Now I know who pressured the DNR into establishing a mosquito refuge. In the interest of dialogue, let’s talk. You are invited over to my place tomorrow for a beer on the patio, say about dusk. 🙂

    1. Everything is bigger in Texas… but then you should see the ones in Alaska. I heard two especially burly ones, one summer evening outside my tent, plotting in sinister tones — and I feared the worst.

      1. Rotten creatures for sure… sinister is the perfect description. I remember many a night laying in the dark listening to the whine of a mozzie and wondering which part of my body was going to be missing in the morning…

  9. Sorry you’re having a problem but not really because the story was funny. A large roof-mounted fan that could create a nice breeze might work to keep them away? Or how about installing some bat houses and then let the bats eat the mosquitos.

    1. Or how about installing some bat houses and then let the bats eat the mosquitos.

      Don suggested that upthread. Though the bats eat a lot of mosquitoes, they rarely dent the population. All you get is fat bats. 🙂

  10. Skeeters…the scourge of the Upper Midwest. It was actually one of the “pro” factors on our list of pros and cons when we considered moving from Michigan to Colorado — NO MOSQUITOES (or at least very few). I would be happy to send you my old beekeeper outfit.

    1. At one time, I considered moving to Alaska. It is like Colorado with mosquitoes. That put a nix on that. That and being caught in a snow storm on the 4th of July south of Deadhorse.

        1. Yeah, the cold dark months are a problem. People tend to hibernate and hang out in bars.

          Yeh, Bars!

          I was in a grocery store is Seward when the staff pulled an entire aisle of shelving down and replaced it with pallets of peanuts. When asked why, a kid said, “people like to pack on a few pounds for the winter.”

          Yeh, Peanuts!

  11. Again, that unexpected ending, your signature, is perfect. You are an incredible storyteller, worthy of DNR preservation.

    BTW, I love your yard and would enjoy sitting there a spell. I think Herbie needs to give you more than a single small bag of charcoal, though, to cover that space.

    1. Oh, it is. The mosquitoes are only a problem for a few weeks in late June and early July. In a wet year, you can’t stay outside for long. After that, they are a mild nuisance.

  12. Maybe you need to build about 100 bat houses. Charcoal soaked in Deet, that seems like an interesting approach. At least you haven’t lost your sense of humor.

    1. I was curious about why I never see bats, so I asked a neighbor. He looked at me like I was an idiot. “Bats are warm blooded,” he said, “they would never make it out of there.”


        1. Seriously, I did some research last year about how to control pests naturally and learned that while bats and purple martins are voracious mosquito eaters, they are opportunistic feeders of whose diet of mosquitoes rarely exceeds 1%.

          The extension service gal said that relying on predators was ineffective, “at best,” she said, “all you will have is fat bats.” 🙂

  13. If this weren’t such a problem for you the story would be hilarious…:) Your backyard view is beautiful so it’s understandable why you wanted to live there, but being a prisoner in your own home during the summer months without a solution to your problem must be difficult. At least you are able to vent here and entertain us and there’s always Herbie to help take your mind off the problem.
    Deet…go figure..:)

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