Friday, September 17, 2004


Like most vegetable gardeners with an ounce of sense, I work the garden in the morning and evening when the sun is low in the sky and labor is cool. However, that arrangement does have a problem, like all approaches to paradise I've ever tried, in that this is precisely the MO of the mosquito.

The mosquitoes around here are not the big lumbering stratofortresses they used to have when I was a kid in NY that you could see and hear from yards away and feel when they crash landed on your arm as though you were a carrier on a tossing sea, giving you plenty of time to flatten them with a free hand, then pick them up and throw them some distance.

Our mosquitoes are tiny specks of ash that have taken billions of years of stealth training. Their motto, hung over the doorway of every mosquito barracks, is: "Fast in, Fast out." You can't hear them unless they're right in your ear, but they're not so dumb as to go for the ear; you can't see the little specks of darkness flying around in the dawn or dusk, you can't feel them land, since they're so tiny a NY mosquito could carry ten of them under one wing. Thus they alight (that word really describes it), thus they dine and thus they depart, so stealthily that modern armies study them for stealth secrets.

Their one weakness (apart from the supereffective sprays that also slowly eradicate the user unto seven generations) is the mosquito coil, an irritating incense made of plant material. With a lit coil around, the mosquitoes begin coughing and either stay away or soon die. (The sound of a mosquito cough is very satisfying; it's sort of the standard whine, only broken up into little chokes that get louder and louder till the gratifying last gasp.) However, if you use the coil in the garden you tend of course to move away from it as you weed or whatever, rendering the coil ineffective unless you keep moving it, which you forget to do because you're out there gardening, not moving a mosquito coil.

You can get a special container that lets you clip the smoking coil to your belt, but as I say the smoke is not pleasant. So I went for a bit of high-tech I saw in the store the other day (the day I bought the Imperial Walker Garlic, concerning which I posted earlier): a little plastic unit about half the size of a credit card that when you turn it on emits a sound practically inaudible to humans, but that to mosquitoes is like high-volume Sex Pistols to Queen Elizabeth. Or so it implied, without actual reference to sex or queens, on the back of the bubble pack.

Thus it was that, in all the high-tech confidence that neogizmos afford I clipped the presumptuous-looking little square of plastic to my belt and set off to do one-sided battle with billions of years of stealth technology. Needless to say, it was astonishing to learn that Queen Elizabeth just can't get enough of the Sex Pistols.


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