Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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Mosquito Coast

August 03, 2005

You can do a lot more in a riding ring than go round and round in circles, but still, after three days max, ring riding gets old and we head for the woods. The last couple of weeks we'd been confined pretty much to quarters. Heat wasn't the problem: most days by five the air has cooled to almost pleasant and a breeze has come up. The problem was mosquitoes. We'd come back from a ten- or fifteen-minute warm-up ride with my arms looking like a battleground, splatted with dead mosquitoes from one wrist to the other. I tried dousing my schooling tights and even my arms with Allie's fly spray: didn't help.

This afternoon we declared our independence -- conditionally, that's true. The deal was, if the mosquitoes weren't too bad, we'd keep going. They weren't, and we did. The deer fly population has increased in the last week, but if mosquitoes are as populous and mobile as commas, then deer flies are more like semicolons: larger, more ponderous, and easier to hit.

Lately I've been listening to Les Barker's new CD, The War on Terrier. Les Barker is a very funny Brit who versifies his parodies, or parodies in verse; sometimes, as on his previous recording, Yelp!, he's joined by the Mrs. Ackroyd Band, in which case the parodies develop a musical dimension. The War on Terrier includes the sad story of Gladys, which begins like this:

We were sitting out in the sun,
two of us having a drink
This is how life ought to be, said Gladys --
but life never goes how you think.

Fancy another? said I
I'd like more of what we just had
Then a big hand dropped down from the sky
and splat went my sister Glad

She was only a little mosquito
why did you have to do that?
Glad was incredibly little.
Now she's incredibly flat.

I tell you: driving around the island listening to this, I resolved to stop swatting mosquitoes. Poor Gladys, and her poor bewildered brother, who would rather emigrate to the Yukon than tell their mother what has happened. But Allie doesn't pack a CD player, so I couldn't maintain my resolve when I rode into the woods. Swat, swat, swat!

There are lessons to be learned, however. I was already disposed to think of mosquitoes as tourists, or terrorists; or maybe it's vice versa? One horseback rider, a few thousand mosquitoes: sounds like a guerrilla war, doesn't it? And, as usual, I'm not sure which side I'm on.

(If your politics and your sense of humor encompass, say, John Forster, Tom Lehrer, and the Capitol Steps, you'll probably love Les Barker. More at


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