We will be attending our triennial “Bates Bash” next week in our Maine cottage, built by my great grandmother over 100 years ago atop the Ricker Hill apple orchards, which my cousins still operate. We will renew connections, walk among the trees, eat a lobster dinner, and generally make merry. We will also battle mosquitoes.
Although I find mosquitoes intolerable, Tolstoy offers another perspective on them in his novel The Cossacks, which I’m currently reading. I share it here in case there are any readers out there interested in adopting this perspective. I know that my farmer cousins are far less bothered by mosquitoes that I am, so perhaps Olenin, a young Russian soldier who has become enchanted with the Caucuses, is on to something:
The day was perfectly clear, calm, and hot. The morning moisture had dried up even in the forest, and myriads of mosquitoes literally covered his face, his back, and his arms. His dog had turned from black to grey, its back being covered with mosquitoes, and so had Olenin’s coat through which the insects thrust their stings. Olenin was ready to run away from them and it seemed to him that it was impossible to live in this country in the summer. He was about to go home, but remembering that other people managed to endure such pain he resolved to bear it and gave himself up to be devoured. And strange to say, by noontime the feeling became actually pleasant. He even felt that without this mosquito-filled atmosphere around him, and that mosquito-paste mingled with perspiration which his hand smeared over his face, and that unceasing irritation all over his body, the forest would lose for him some of its character and charm. These myriads of insects were so well suited to that monstrously lavish wild vegetation, these multitudes of birds and beasts which filled the forest, this dark foliage, this hot scented air, these runlets filled with turbid water which everywhere soaked through from the Terek and gurgled here and there under the overhanging leaves, that the very thing which had at first seemed to him dreadful and intolerable now seemed pleasant.
Olenin even finds a way of turning mosquitoes into an occasion for philosophical reflection. Each mosquito is an individual and he, in turn, is part of a larger whole:
He felt cool and comfortable and did not think of or wish for anything. And suddenly he was overcome by such a strange feeling of causeless joy and of love for everything, that from an old habit of his childhood he began crossing himself and thanking someone. Suddenly, with extraordinary clearness, he thought: ‘Here am I, Dmitri Olenin, a being quite distinct from every other being, now lying all alone Heaven only knows where—where a stag used to live—an old stag, a beautiful stag who perhaps had never seen a man, and in a place where no human being has ever sat or thought these thoughts. Here I sit, and around me stand old and young trees, one of them festooned with wild grape vines, and pheasants are fluttering, driving one another about and perhaps scenting their murdered brothers.’ He felt his pheasants, examined them, and wiped the warm blood off his hand onto his coat. ‘Perhaps the jackals scent them and with dissatisfied faces go off in another direction: above me, flying in among the leaves which to them seem enormous islands, mosquitoes hang in the air and buzz: one, two, three, four, a hundred, a thousand, a million mosquitoes, and all of them buzz something or other and each one of them is separate from all else and is just such a separate Dmitri Olenin as I am myself.’ He vividly imagined what the mosquitoes buzzed: ‘This way, this way, lads! Here’s some one we can eat!’ They buzzed and stuck to him. And it was clear to him that he was not a Russian nobleman, a member of Moscow society, the friend and relation of so-and-so and so-and-so, but just such a mosquito, or pheasant, or deer, as those that were now living all around him.
Still not convinced to live and let live? Still not ready to embrace mosquito-paste? Me neither.