This means war!

Posted on July 18, 2014. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , , |

It happened at twilight on one of those most uncharacteristic July evenings this week, when the cooler air coaxed me outside beyond the unspoken Delta curfew.

I saw the sunset sky in the west, and the descending darkness told me the time without glancing at my smartphone. Still I lingered.

Perhaps I thought that this unseasonable temperature, which had made for such an enchanting late afternoon, might also possess uncanny repellent characteristics…

Without warning, the scourge of summer was upon me in what almost seemed an organized fashion.

A swarm of mosquitoes suddenly struck like a squadron under air command, attacking and alighting on every exposed skin surface. As the cloud enveloped me I couldn’t help but recall Wordsworth’s familiar line: “there are forty feeding like one!”

The Infinite Monkey Theorem contends that a chimp at a typewriter hitting random keys would ultimately replicate Shakespeare. Why wouldn’t it be a similar inevitability that a flock of typically weak-flying random mosquitoes would eventually emulate the coordinated flight paths of dive-bombing Japanese Zeros at Pearl Harbor?

The episode left me brooding over this curse that Arkansas Delta populations perennially endure, and its especially dire effects this year.

Just a week ago, my mother described an almost identical swarm attack while working in her garden in Walnut Ridge. Facebook is abuzz with anecdotes describing abnormal anopheles aggressiveness.

I normally frown on the use of “war” rhetoric as employed against causes or movements (i.e., the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs), because they aren’t actually fighting wars and can’t be won in the military sense.

This conflict between man and mosquito is different.

It’s an ongoing battle by all accounts, including the loss of blood (albeit one mosquito bellyful at a time) the occupation of territory (most of Eastern Arkansas) and the oppression of liberty (the flying beasts declare martial law at dark).

It’s time to declare a War on Mosquitoes.

Like all real wars, that means death. The only good mosquito is a dead one; preferably one that perishes as a larva.

That’s the beauty of a War on Mosquitoes—we are guaranteed victory before we start. We have the technology to wipe them out. We have broken their codes in every sense.

We know their positions and their weaknesses. They have strength in numbers, but we can rain mass destruction on them from afar. A military comparison would be matching sticks and stones against nuclear missiles.

The only obstacle to waging a short-lived and utterly successful campaign to obliterate the enemy mosquito is money.

Fortunately, we’ve got that, too.

Our state’s fiscal-year surplus is nearly $79 million. It wouldn’t take too many of those millions to make mosquitoes merely a bad memory.

Plus, Arkansans in infested areas already spend significant sums in personal protection against mosquitoes, all of which leaves our state economy and even our nation (popular brand OFF! is produced in Finland).

Those local dollars would be preserved if mosquitoes were eradicated.

People who haven’t spent time in the Delta at a baseball or softball game after dark cannot fully realize the casualties already being suffered at the wings of mosquitoes.

FEMA considers mosquitoes in certain quantities to be a health and safety hazard in emergency situations.

This time of year, Arkansas rice fields essentially create flood conditions as far as mosquito-surveillance data standards are concerned.

FEMA’s established mosquito risk threshold is 25 landings per minute. I challenge any investigator to find a Delta flatland community with a rate that low!

I personally experienced 25 landings in about 15 seconds the other night. I swatted four or five on my retreat into the house (and could’ve killed more had I had more hands).

Years ago, I wondered aloud whether Toyota’s decision to locate its plant in Mississippi was affected in part by Marion’s annual mosquito epidemic.

Just as the bloodsuckers chase us into our homes at sundown, I readily believe they chase away any outsiders who might tour the area during summer.

Were I a company executive considering plant locations—analyzing every quality-of-life dimension—it wouldn’t take more than one hyper-FEMA-level mosquito attack to move Arkansas down the short list.

Who wants to live where mosquitoes make it impossible to grill out at night? Or swim at night? Or simply enjoy a surprise burst of cool evening air in July?

Those of us who have grown up with this abominable curfew accept it. It’s a mistake to assume newcomers will.

Winning a War on Mosquitoes would have a transformative effect on an entire region of the state in addition to increasing its appeal to visitors.

Every community is strengthened when a mosquito-free environment allows the expansion of green spaces and parks, and gathering at ballgames and fairs and other outdoor events.

My fingers and shins still itch as I contemplate the tipping point to which vampire skeeters have finally brought us, and recall Bugs Bunny’s inimitable expression: This means war!

The sooner we begin it, the sooner we will win it.

And a statewide victory over mosquitoes will be worth far, far more than its cost.

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