A little less than a month ago, in early May, it finally felt safe to declare Addison County in a state of full-blown spring. All the signs were there: we'd stopped burning wood in the stove at night, we'd cut our getting-out-the-door time in half by omitting hats and gloves and boots (and sometimes even coats!), we'd hung the hammock and put the potted plants back outside, and we'd replaced the screens on the doors and windows. Whenever we returned home from errands or school, our daughters raced from the minivan right into the yard to blow bubbles, climb rocks, chalk the walkway, ride bikes -- and even, one glorious afternoon, frolic on the Slip-n-Slide.
For a full week, our family reveled in the renewal of our outdoor paradise. Then, one afternoon, I noticed that small, black things were flying around my head. As I waved them away with my hands, I saw that my daughters were also flailing their arms in front of their faces. And then, I felt that old, familiar pinch; heard that old, familiar buzzzzz -- along with my daughters' shrieks as they raced for the house.
Oh yeah, THAT.
The bugs are back. Paradise lost.
It's funny how quickly we forget. This past frigid winter had me longing for the return of warm weather and green leaves, but I forgot that nothing in life is perfect. With the warmer weather come the bugs, and that's why, by September, I'm longing for the return of freezing temperatures: Because freezing temperatures kill off the mosquitoes! (And the flies, and the ticks).
I personally don't find bug season intolerable; sure, bugs are annoying and itchy, but I'm happy to put on a hat and some bug spray and go about enjoying the outdoors. What's intolerable is ushering my children through bug season.
I have one daughter who refuses to put on bug spray; she claims it smells bad and makes her feel cold. So, all spring and summer long, anytime we go outside, this particular daughter has to be caught and held down and bug-sprayed despite her screams and flailing. Two other daughters aren't as resistant to bug spray, but they've inherited my husband's sensitive and allergy-prone skin, which means that they walk around covered in red, oozing welts the size of half-dollars wherever they've been bitten. And our baby is still too young for bug spray, but also refuses to keep a hat on her head. Nothing makes me feel like a worse parent than a baby with black fly bites all over her scalp. (I swear those bugs have teeth).
If the bugs are particularly bad (and they often are in our yard, since we live in the woods), once we've gone through the chasing and trapping and spraying and squirming -- times four -- we'll finally get outside where, after approximately four minutes, my daughters will declare, "There are too many bugs out here! We're going back in!"
Then there are the tick checks. Every evening, we have to give all four girls the once-over to make sure they haven't been colonized by deer ticks. This is made more difficult by their long, dark hair (none of our daughters wants to have her hair cut -- ever -- a la Rapunzel and every other princess, which means I will be sending the bill for their Lyme Disease treatment to the Disney company). Checking the hair requires two parents and a flashlight if we really want to do it right. And, in the event we do find a tick, we have to remove it, which involves more squirming and complaining.
So, thanks to the bugs, my entire spring and summer feel like an endless wrestling match with four angry octopi.
But just as humans have an unlimited capacity for forgetting, we have an unlimited capacity for hope. So, I'm holding out hope this year. Black fly season began, as always, right around Mother's Day, but it seemed short this year: We've yet to reach Father's Day -- the traditional end of the black flies -- and I haven't seen a black fly in a week. We haven't found a tick yet, either. And my mother-in-law, who came to visit from California this month prepared for bugs, introduced us to the concept of Bounce sheets as a mosquito repellant; apparently mosquitoes don't like the smell of fabric softener. This is something that my bug-spray-resistant daughter can get behind: She's now going outside with a Bounce sheet tied around each wrist, and although I was skeptical at first, she's remained mostly bite-free.
In the end, I suppose that without bugs, Vermont springs and summers would be too perfect. And perfection, as we know, isn't good for people. If we all sat around enjoying a bug-less spring and summer, we'd become too happy and lazy. Nothing would get done. How many great works of art and literature can we attribute to the suffering caused by mosquitoes? Probably a lot -- certainly all the great Russian novels. (I once spent two summer weeks in Russia, where the mosquitoes resembled vicious, bloodsucking hummingbirds.)
So, the next time you see a mosquito buzzing about your head, consider saying, "Thanks for Anna Karenina!" before squashing it dead.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone puppy — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.