North to Alaska: Death to mosquitoes

Posted June 24, 2011, at 6:54 p.m.

I woke up on my first morning at the Yukon River Camp with a headache, probably from dehydration considering how dry it is here (the previous day I had spilled a 5-gallon jug of water on myself and 15 minutes later I was basically dry), but sleep deprivation was not out of the question.

I crossed the parking lot to the cafe and found my co-workers hanging out in the office eating breakfast. Heidi (fellow server) and Brody (cook) were eating at the small table, while Terry (manager) and Rob (cook) were sitting at the two desks.

Mosquitoes abounded. When I entered and poured myself a cup of tea, Heidi was spraying Deep Woods Off all over the office, much to the chagrin of everyone who was eating. Rob was smacking away and counting “108, 109 …” which, when I asked, he revealed to be the number of mosquitoes he had killed thus far this season.

“My goal,” he said, “is to reach a swallow’s daily kill total of 1,000.”  When I teased him about killing only just over 100 in three weeks, he explained that there weren’t any bugs in his room because of the swallows living in his walls. And it is true, there are at least 30 cliff swallows flying all over the camp, and at least four nests on one wall behind the co-worker quarters.

I still didn’t believe his count to be all that outstanding since I had probably killed about five as I stood in the doorway, until I considered that until about three weeks ago, the Yukon was still frozen, so he probably hadn’t been killing mosquitoes that whole time. I also would later discover that when you are working, you don’t notice the little terrors all that much.

As I finished up my breakfast, I decided that it would be fun to keep track of my mosquito kills this season as well, so at about 9 a.m. Monday, June 6, I killed mosquito No. 1.

I challenge you to compete with me from back home, because I’ve found that it is actually quite enjoyable to keep track of your kills, and the bugs become somewhat more tolerable when you can count your bug bites at night and happily say, “Me: 45; mosquitoes: 15.”  The rules are: You have to see the body of the insect, or at least blood if she already bit you, which is why I’ve not really been counting those that I kill at night. Just remember, honesty is the best policy. Feel free to keep track of black fly deaths as well, but since they don’t exist here (how wonderful is that?!) I cannot compete on that account.

Sometimes we have to close up the office or the entryway and light a coil to get rid of them, but I’ve been told that the bugs haven’t been that bad this year; that in some years you can’t even see out the window. I’ve also been told that the daily record for kills is more than 100.

Editor’s Note: Catie Zielinski graduated from Bangor High School on 2007 and is a recent graduate from Cornell University. She is working this summer 120 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska, at the Yukon River Camp.

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