Fast-forward 50-plus years, and here I am a city mouse with a patch of poison ivy on my wrist (I dunno … maybe from a walk near the river?), daily application of sunscreen and slap-happy visits to our plot in the community garden. Plus ça change…
It doesn’t matter where I am, either. The sun shines everywhere, and although North Caicos doesn’t have poison ivy, there are poisonwood trees, the sap of which causes a rash that’s even worse. And of course there are mosquitoes. Oh, are there mosquitoes!
Our first encounter with TCI mosquitoes was on our very first trip. There had been some rain before we got there, just in time for a big hatch, and in those days there was no spraying done on the out islands. Not long after we checked into our room at Pelican Beach Hotel, Susie came by with mosquito coils, a product with which we were unfamiliar. She put one in the corner of the room and showed us how to light it and let it smolder, releasing its insecticide. I wasn’t happy with the odor, and when I looked at the box I saw that it wasn’t meant to be used indoors, but, oh yes, I came to love the smell and didn’t care what toxins were being released, as long as those little buggers would leave me alone.
The whole visit was a battle with the mosquitoes. In the evenings at the bar, you could hear conversations being punctuated with slaps, and we quickly learned the local etiquette that had reaching out and slapping someone as a favor, not an insult or provocation. Lovey Forbes sang his song, “Bloody Mosquitoes,” and everyone nodded along. Then Tom and I brought out the Caladryl we’d brought along, and it got funny. We passed around the “skin-colored” lotion for others to use and then we all got a good laugh from the pink polka-dotted black faces around us.
There was also humor (for Tom, at least) in the manic dance I performed one night after taking a shortcut to our room through the grass, raising up a cloud of biters. Mostly, though, it was misery. When we returned to North Caicos the next year, Susie looked at us in astonishment. “You came back?” she asked, implying a question to our sanity.
Never since have I had such a bad mosquito experience. The TCI government started a spraying program, Deep Woods Off! became my perfume and I acquired a mosquito net for the bed. (It’s a toss-up, however, over which is worse: a buzz in your ear as you try to sleep, or getting tossed onto the floor by a tangle of netting when you try to get up to pee.)
I know there are some readers who are horrified by the casual acceptance of insecticides in my life, especially by someone who considers herself an environmentalist. But one does become desperate in the face (or proboscis) of the tropical mosquito. There are times when the frogs and geckoes just can’t eat enough of the things, and the “natural” products, frankly, just don’t work as well, if at all. (Yes, I’ve tried Skin-So-Soft; doesn’t do a damn thing for me.) If there were ever another hatch as bad as that 1990 one, I’d even consider taking up smoking, getting the house air-conditioned or finding some black market DDT (and yes, I’ve read “Silent Spring”).
No, I’m exaggerating. I think some reasonable better living through chemistry is OK, but we still must think about the balance of nature. I would not want all mosquitoes eliminated. What would happen to the animals that eat them? Unless, of course, they might switch their diets to cockroaches….