Beasts of the Northern Wild (yes, yet another entry about mosquitoes)

Off on an adventure

In Arctic Alaska they say that summer is nothing but a sweet dream, a six-week window of sun and warm breezes, when flowers bloom and berries ripen. But what they don’t mention are the mosquitoes. And believe me they need to be mentioned. Minus the grizzlies, they are the real beasts of the northern wild.

July is known to be “mosquito month” and it was just my luck that this year happened to be one of the worst years on record. In fact, most people like Heimo, who live in the bush and survive winters of 50 below, usually leave during the month of July, just to avoid the skeeters. I had been warned about the bugs. A biologist in Fairbanks told us stories of clouds of mosquitoes driving huge herds of caribou to stampede into the waters of the Arctic Ocean and of driving grizzlies to the point of madness.  So I came prepared with a Thermacelle, countless cans of Deet, anti-itch cream, headnets, and the illusion that I could keep the mosquitoes at bay. Now, I know just how deluded I was.

I’m from Wisconsin, mosquito country, but nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught. No matter how much bug spray I wore, no matter how many layers I had on for protection, the mosquitoes still managed to leave every last inch of me–most annoyingly, my behind–covered in red, itchy dots. But gradually, I got used to the fact that I could never pee in peace. I learned to pick out mosquitoes that had flown into my water bucket, my pancakes, my nose, my mouth. I accepted that every time I walked through the brush or hauled water from the river I was mosquito meat. But, though there wasn’t a cute guy within 200 miles, I was NOT OKAY with big red bites on my face. So I spent my days in a hot headnet. I had to remember to lift the net to drink, eat, and spit. Had there been a cute boy, I still wouldn’t have taken it off. When we finally got out, I inspected myself in a full length mirror. My body was full of bites and blotches, but my face—perfection 😉

Thank god for the tent
Thank god for the tent

Foraging in Fairbanks

Gritty Gal at the Local Club in Fairbanks, Alaska
Everything is wild in Alaska.

Spent my first day at the Fairbanks dump—don’t ask. Not exactly the wilds of Alaska, but still I met many wild and colorful characters, scroungers, and vagabonds, with their vehicles full of all their worldly possessions. They mistook me for one of them and inducted me into their club. We talked scrounging, self-sufficiency and how one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. One guy said he’d decorated his entire cabin with stuff scrounged from the dump.

I got a quick tour of Fairbanks, as my dad and I rushed across town in Heimo’s gas-guzzler of a truck gathering cabin-building materials for Heimo and provisions for our trip. We went on a wild goose chase for some twelve-inch cabin spikes and a Thermacelle insect repellent lantern, guaranteed to keep all mosquitoes away. Apparently it works, though, because every store we went to was sold out. Our search led us all across the city and to the far corners of town. It was here that I found probably the most amusing of Fairbanks’ many quirks: “Show Girls,” the local club. I couldn’t resist including a photo. I guess everything is wild in Alaska.