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