Mosquitos in my woods

     Yes, there are mosquitos in my woods.

     It was in my writing group maybe ten or fifteen years ago that the woman broke the rules of feedback. I had recently left my job in the research forest to stay home with my babies, and once a week I got out to write. In my group, we did a twenty minute “free write”, and then took turns reading what we had written aloud. Our purpose was self-discovery, not polishing for publication; to read aloud was a way to have a kinesthetic experience of your own words, shaping them with your voice, and hearing them. Feedback from the others was optional, intended as an offering of the listener's personal response, and specifically not a critique. I wrote a lot about the woods, things that happened there, and often about the merging of my soul with the greater spirit I encountered.
     And then one Monday during feedback this woman told me that I was being untruthful in my writes because I never wrote about the mosquitos. I was shocked. For her I guess the mosquitos and the black flies were the predominant force of nature in the woods – in her whole life I think. The truth of it was that the mosquitos were a major force affecting my life in the research forest, but I had learned to deal with them physically and emotionally and they became just a part of living in the richness of the forest.
      My forest was in midcoast Maine, bordering the vast areas of salt marsh adjacent to the upper Back River. The mosquitos were intense and unescapable. As a child and even as an adult, I had remarkable reactions to mosquito bites – red, itchy, swollen volcanoes on my skin – and I scratched. Consequently, I always looked poxed by the end of summer.
     To work in my forest, I devised an effective mosquito-proof uniform. I looked like a tramp. I wore baggy pants, the kind with elastic at the ankles, to prevent a bite through fabric stretched taught against my skin. Thick socks and light-weight hikers covered my ankles. I needed two layers to barricade my reaching and measuring and crawling and counting upper body, and so I started with a cotton turtleneck with the sleeves cut to short-sleeve length so I wouldn't be too hot, and then a baggy button-up long-sleeve shirt over that. 
My greatest innovation though was my headgear. First a billed hat – a baseball cap. Over that, a head net. But the fine mesh of the head net strained my eyes when I was trying to measure red-backed salamanders. So I cut holes for my eyes and taped in a pair of clear-lens safety glasses. It worked brilliantly. The only thing left was my hands. I bought cotton garden gloves and cut off the finger tips so I could hold a clipboard and pen to record the data I was collecting.
     And still – I did get bit, though far, far less than I would have suffered. And thus for those remaining bites I learned to practice a critical emotional and psychological yoga: I didn't scratch. I had about five minutes of insane itchiness at the bite site, but if I didn't scratch, it would die down to a below-the-radar itchiness. And I learned that after the first dozen bites or so of spring, I seemed to become inoculated or immune, and my body's reaction did not jump up to that insanely itchy level for the rest of the summer.
     So there. There were mosquito in my woods, and I dealt with them, and wound up discovering common spirit – a home – in the layers of air and light and life in the forest.
     I worry that I come across as a pollyanna when I write, that there are others who may read what I write and not believe the truth of my words that I offer. But I stand in the truth of my world, and if you want to know about the mosquitos, you can ask. They are there. But I've learned not to scratch.