Friday, July 25, 2008
The year of the vermin
Its been an interesting year, vermin wise, for the Voice of Reason. It began on the Mississippi River, scene of a recent Sea Kayaker article, "Paddling the Pools", with a vicious and unprovoked carp attack. A few short weeks later on Manitou Island, we were awakened by the KingOfIronwoodIsland, informing us that a large black bear was sitting on his butt 20 yards away staring at us. Even though this boy was the cause of Manitou Island being closed, his presence didn't alarm the VOR nearly as much as the carp. Or the snakes on the next trip. Her and MrEngineerGear, another snakeophobe, noticed a snake slithering through the water near Stockton Island and shared a mutual shudder of horror. The very next day we stopped on Hermit Island for lunch and the VOR sat down on a very comfy log. As she munched her lunch she looked down between her feet and saw the fellow in the photo. A jack-in-the-box could not have come off the log faster. To her credit her snake scream this time did not compare to the one at Pictured Rocks the year before when I was sure she had come on a drowned and partially eaten corpse; it was however just a good sized bull snake.
On the trip around Gitchee Gumee we did encounter one bear, no snakes, and no carp. We did encounter the smallest and arguably most insidious vermin of all however. The gnat, cousin of the black fly and close relative of the hated mosquito. For some reason these pests seem attracted to the females that I paddle with regularly. GurneyGranny is extremely anti-insect and actually suggested moving the 4th of July trip off the Apostles to an inland lake due to an alarmist bug report from some semi reliable friend. I remember the BessemerConvivialist in the Keewenaw, neoprene clad legs covered with black flies and a sour expression on her face. I do have a simple theory for this phenomona however. They simply smell better than I do. Flowers give off scents and have colors that attract insects to cross pollinate them. Women slather on moisturizers and other mysterious creams and lotions made from herbal/floral extracts and favor colorful, stylish gear. Why then, are they surprised that the bugs are drawn to them? Note the way the flies love the yellow life jacket in the photo. I guess I should thank them for luring the bugs away from me but I've found that biting my tongue on this issue is the most prudent path, especially when they are at their orneriest in the heat of insect battle.
We stopped at the northenmost point on Lake Superior and wandered out on to a beautiful overlook. Unfortunately the gnats found it attractive also and the little buggers nailed us both a number of times before we fled. I had a couple of bites that were aggravating but nothing like the VOR. That afternoon she looked like Rocky Balboa in the 13th round against Apollo Creed after his eye had been swollen shut. "Yo Mick, I can't see, you need to cut it!". She rallied nicely however and both the eye and gnat induced cauliflower ear had healed nicely by the time we got to the symposium in Grand Marais.
I guess if you are spending time in the natural environment you need to deal with the natural environment. I had a guy on Isle Royale in 1975 offer me $40 for my mosquito headnet. It was late May and the mosquito hatch was unbelievable. This would be $152.56 in 2008 dollars and he said he'd offer more but that was all the money he had. In a textbook example of market economics I refused him. My discomfort for the rest of the trip was worth considerably more than $40. To the credit of all three of the afflicted women mentioned in the post, they soldier on with kayak camping, adapting and developing better and more effective means to deal with insects and other vermin. Now if I can only develop and market a snake detector........