Itching to avoid mosquito mayhem

To keep the flying insects at bay, Mary Lee Hagert’s son and husband donned mosquito nets during a picnic lunch. It was quite a feat to get the sandwiches into their mouths without also consuming a few mosquitoes. (submitted photo)
To keep the flying insects at bay, Mary Lee Hagert’s son and husband donned mosquito nets during a picnic lunch. It was quite a feat to get the sandwiches into their mouths without also consuming a few mosquitoes. (submitted photo)

Mary Lee Hagert
Executive editor

The first day the thermometer inched into the 60s, I was ready to dig out the Bermuda shorts and flip flops. The trees were beginning to leaf out; the tulips had emerged from their winter slumber, and it was in the low 60s ... summer couldn’t be too far off, could it?

It really only takes a handful of days above freezing to turn a Minnesotan’s thoughts toward backyard barbecues, lake swimming and fun getaways. As I replaced the snow shovels with garden rakes in the garage, and packed away my winter-weary parka and mittens, I found myself mentally trying on this summer’s travel options. Maybe New Orleans, or visiting with friends on Mackinac Island.

Or perhaps a return trip to Manitoba to explore the places we didn’t make it to during our trip there last summer.

The scent of memory

As sometimes happens when your thoughts are aimlessly drifting, I began “experiencing” the sensations of last summer’s travels - warm breezes swirling around the inside of the minivan and tousling our hair; the taste of tangy wild blueberries picked by the handfuls along the forest edges; the startling sight of poutine set before us in a roadside café in Canada and wondering why this dish — French fries swimming in pale beige gravy and topped with cheese curds — was so popular with the locals.

My mind could see the flat terrain of far northwestern Minnesota with few towns, few cars and certainly few hills, but enormous fields of blooming sunflowers and ripening wheat turning deep gold.

And traveling mile after mile along southeastern Manitoba’s sleepy, two-lane roads, occasionally interrupted by villages with onion-domed churches, and overhearing the spirited (but incomprehensible) conversations of folks speaking the local dialect of Ukrainian mixed with English.

Then, as my musings turned to the parks we visited, I heard a familiar, high-pitched buzzing sound near my ears. It was hard to resist swatting at the phantom mosquito. And scratching.

And searching for cover.

‘Wildlife’ by the swarm

We thought we might see black bears, foxes, river otters and beavers on last summer’s trip, which was planned by our college-age son Christopher, who aims to hike in every Minnesota state park. We didn’t spot any of those critters in the four remote northwestern Minnesota parks we visited.  Instead, the dominant wildlife — in the midst of a drought, no less — were bloodthirsty mosquitoes and annoying gnats.

At one point on the long Hiking Club Trail at Itasca State Park, I noticed my husband’s green jacket had a peculiar band of tan along the collar. I puzzled over it for a second before having the wide-eyed realization that the tan stripe was a thick layer of mosquitoes furiously trying to get at his flesh through his windbreaker. Panicked at the prospect of being eaten alive — literally — I squealed, “Run for your lives!” and we did all the way back to Douglas Lodge, barely outpacing our voracious attackers.

As we approached Hayes Lake State Park in drought-stricken Roseau County, we assumed we’d seen the last of the water-loving pests. But a battalion of mosquitoes and gnats dive-bombed us the minute we stepped foot in our campsite. Exchanging alarmed glances, Christopher and I sprinted back into the minivan for safety, while my husband frantically rifled through a knapsack in search of repellent, which it turned out had no effect on the gnats but did keep the mosquitoes at bay, if only for a few minutes.

At Old Mill State Park, which was ringed by parched, wind-swept croplands, there were biting flies at the picnic grounds, leeches in the swimming pond and bullet-sized mosquitoes all along its Hiking Club Trail.

We can laugh about it now, but at the time we found little humor in the unrelenting, prickly pests.

Our mantra that trip: “How do you spell relief? D-E-E-T!”

Now I’m itching to hit the road again and daydreaming about destinations that won’t repeat last summer’s insect mayhem.

Maybe it will be a few days of bicycling on Mackinac Island with friends, or exploring New Orleans and sampling the Creole cuisine on Bourbon Street, or perhaps walking around Winnipeg’s French district and English-style gardens.

Surely, none of those places will be plagued with insects ... will they?
Mary Lee Hagert can be reached at or at 651-748-7820.


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