Of bugs and books

June 25, 2013

no mosquito sign

I’m a glass-in-half-full kind of person. I acknowledge that and I also realize it can be annoying to other people. A silver lining outlook drives a lot of people nuts. But this past week has driven me dangerously close to becoming a glass-is-half-empty kind of gal.

And the reason can be summed up in one word: Bugs.

We are currently overrun with bugs, namely mosquitos. We had a wet spring (really more like an extended winter) and there’s still a lot of standing water around. Ideal mosquito conditions. If we had wind this wouldn’t be a problem, since mosquitos have no ballast in wind, they’re just swept away. But we don’t have wind. This past week has been overcast, foggy, drizzly … and NO wind. And those mosquitos are lovin’ it. Normally this wouldn’t be that big a problem. I live in the north woods, it’s not like I don’t know (and accept) bugs.

But here’s the other thing that’s threatened my half-full outlook: Books.

I have spent the better part of a week inside a large gym helping to promote and sell books, and sign my own. And I use the term “gym” loosely – this was the Student Development Complex at Michigan Tech and the “gym” was actually four regulation size basketball courts, with extra space on the periphery to accommodate food vendors and ticket takers.  It was noisy and full of artificial light. Great event – Finn Fest – wonderful people, a good time. But still inside – under artificial light, with no exterior windows – for the better part of a week.

To be blunt, I want to go outside and those friggin’ bugs are making it impossible. I don’t care about the fog or the drizzle – that’s gorgeous and enjoyable in its own right. But there isn’t enough Off in the world to stave off those mosquito attacks. And since they’re the size of flying beer bottles they can bite through anything. This week it’s “Bugs – 10 …. Humans – 0.” They’ve won, no doubt about it.

So for all you people missing the great north woods, wishing you were here walking the beach or picking berries … this week you can count your own blessings. May your glass be half full.

                                                                                                          — Lesley

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sturgeon

They look so peaceful, don’t they?

Laura’s comment last week about my propensity to hob nob with wild animals got me thinking. One, she’s correct – I do engage in some bizarre activities – and two, there are plenty of opportunities to engage in bizarre activities. So – because these things are somewhat unique to our area – I thought I’d touch on some of these activities in a blog mini-series.

Thanks to our remote and pristine location, this area is chock full of studies involving animals, ecology, water systems, etc. Many of these studies originate from Michigan Technological University. Besides the famous wolf-moose study on Isle Royale, MTU is also home to the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative, and … among many other studies … the sturgeon rodeo Laura referred to.

A sturgeon rodeo is how you gather data on sturgeons, a prehistoric fish that lives in Lake Superior and spawns in its feeder rivers. Our sturgeon study is run by an MTU professor and has been in existence for more than 25 years. I’ve participated in several rodeos and, lemme tell ya, it’s not for the faint of heart.

For starters, you’ll be hiking a couple miles in chest waders, wading shoes, carrying a cooler, a 3×2 foot rectangular net, scales, tags, and anything else deemed necessary. You need all these things because you have to weigh and measure the sturgeon, and possibly tag it. The cooler is because you’re checking egg traps and any eggs you gather are kept on ice and taken to a fish hatchery.

That seemingly innocuous to-do list overlooks one critical thing: you have to catch the sturgeon to do any of those things.

To catch a sturgeon you stand thigh deep in a swiftly flowing river (with a mossy, cobbled bottom) and start looking – this is where your waders and net come into action, and felt-soled wading shoes are very helpful for keeping your balance. And you work in teams of two.

The first time I actually dealt with a sturgeon my partner and I were standing in the river watching some other teams who were farther out. There was a lot of splashing and cursing going on, including someone falling into the river. But in our section we were just standing around observing – basically, admiring the view.

Then, out of nowhere, the Loch Ness Monster swam between us, bumping into my legs, knocking my partner into the water, and causing a “holy sh*t” to escape from my mouth.

The thing was gray, had a corrugated body, long pointed head, and it was about four feet long and ten inches in diameter. (At the time I would have said it was ten feet long and two feet in diameter, but, in retrospect, I have to be more realistic.) It flipped its dorsal fin at us as it went by – which my partner (who was now scrambling to get out of the water and away from the thing) took to be a Pisces version of “up yours.”

And that’s what you have to catch in your net (good luck with that), weigh, measure, tag, and release.

It’s kind of like alligator wrestling, only without the teeth (sturgeons aren’t known for biting), or maybe calf roping. Only you’re standing on slippery cobblestones, thigh deep in a rushing river while you do it. But, call me crazy, I think it’s interesting and a lot of fun.

So if you were wondering what Laura meant by “sturgeon rodeo,” there you have it. Stay tuned for another installment of “Wild & Crazy Animal Tales.” Until next week …

–Lesley

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