A solitary evening in the backyard, very rare, no bonfire, no family or friends just stars, crescent moon and breeze. And bats. The air is still pale enough to show them as dark silhouettes as they fly close overhead. I have seen them a few times over the summer, but now every evening they come by. And I wonder, how was their summer?
We had long glorious days, endless evenings of dinners outside, and mild nights sitting around warm fires without bothering to light citronella sticks. Where were the mosquitoes Maine fondly call the state bird? The no-seeums that annoy with their tiny unexpected because unseen stings? Where the blackflies that silently, painlessly drill into the flesh, leaving drips of blood behind the ear or next to the eye that astonish when you brush hair out of your face and look down to see crimson wet on your fingers?
These are the dinner of choice for bats, so what did they do this long, languid, bugless summer? Has the bat population diminished due to lack of food? The bats flying here this evening may not be the same bats of summers past, but the numbers seem the same. It is comforting to know they are patrolling our air, hunting down to eat the very things we wish eliminated. But how did they survive this peaceful insect-free summer? “Insect-free?” I hear the Man of Few Words query in my mind.
He recalls a different summer, swatting bugs and scratching bites. I smile complacently, “No, really hardly any mosquitoes this year.” I barely got bitten even when we went fishing in the stream by the Deep Hole in Otter Creek, normally swarming with them, buzzing in ears, and finding any inch of exposed flesh.
But then I realize that there were indeed mosquitoes and no-seeums and black flies. Yes, I did see them in the air, and hovering around my companions’ heads. But they stayed away from me. And now I remember Dennis’ grandchildren saying “Please, may we light the lemongrass sticks?” I thought they just liked the sweet smell and curling smoke drifting lazily among us, but maybe they really were being bothered by stinging insects. I wasn’t.
Garlic! In June I started eating a sliver of raw garlic every morning. It took some getting used to, but I tucked it into a bundle of raisins, and came to enjoy the sharp and sweet little mouthful. Why? Just a general “let’s try this” health thing. Garlic is reputed to have many benefits, it can lower blood pressure, improve vision, clear skin, and so on. I also go on occasional apple cider vinegar regimes and Auyervedic cleanses. I enjoy them, they make me feel connected and in control of my health. But an insect repellent for people?
I googled. Yes, garlic is reputed to have insect repelling oils. I asked, “Do I smell like garlic?” and was reassured. But apparently it was enough to send those nasty biters to seek the sweeter skin of my friends and family. I have phased the garlic out, simple laziness, but have every intention of dosing up again next summer.
A bat circles overhead. Guess his summer was every bit as fine as mine.