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Ross Nelson column: Good riddance to heat, humidity, biting swarms

Summer. Bah, humbug. It was my lot one day last July to wrestle together a tractor implement's pieces, matching intractable metal with the proper holes. The day was typical summer: 85 degrees with nearly matching relative humidity and hordes of b...

Summer. Bah, humbug. It was my lot one day last July to wrestle together a tractor implement's pieces, matching intractable metal with the proper holes. The day was typical summer: 85 degrees with nearly matching relative humidity and hordes of biting, blood-sucking insects.

The squeamish and faint of heart should stop reading this now. As I sieved enough sweat through my head-to-waist mosquito netting to make the implement's deck treacherous to walk on, I considered, not for the first time, just what it was about summer that people find so attractive.

True, the day would have been fine for lazing about on the beach between bouts of splashing in the water, or swinging in a hammock with a teeth-crackingly cold lemonade nearby. But how much time can even the most pampered of us spend on such niceties? Given the need to earn our daily bread and keep up with our chores you might think people would prefer more hospitable summer weather to living in a Turkish steam bath. Need I mention the biting insects which have largely sapped the joy out of summer?

You can set your spring and summer months by the onset of insect plagues. Those few warm days of late March and early April bring a sudden flush of flies which buzz a while then vanish. By late April the wood ticks are out. They will prickle our skin until about mid-July. Our family record for most ticks found on us is 28 after a march around the Casselton reservoir.

The individual record is 23 on my wife after one session in the garden. By late May the flies are beginning to come into their own -- and they bite! -- while June rains always bring huge mosquito swarms. By day the flies dominate, by night the mosquitoes, and there's an odd lull between about 9 and 9:30 p.m. when there's a changing of the pestiferous guard.

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Flies and mosquitoes are a torment, and now the latter bring all sorts of exotic diseases. It isn't fair. My brother who lives exactly one mile from the Florida Everglades says the mosquitoes down there are smaller, fewer, and less active than they are here. How's that for cosmic injustice?

Come August the grasshoppers are out (though they weren't bad this year, for once). Grasshoppers don't bite, but they cream everything that moves. The hood and engine compartment of my car will look like a bug morgue with limbs and torsos projecting from every crevice while the radiator gets colored with a greenish-yellow goo that quickly bakes rock-hard.

Are we done yet? No, Mother Nature has one more kick in the pants for us -- biting lady bugs, for pete's sake.

The true glory of summer is that it leads to autumn. No other season compares, though there are a few spring days each year that come close. Outdoor chores I quite deliberately put off in the summer can now be done in relative comfort. On all but the warmest fall days there's a touch of coolness even at high noon, and the night's crispness is utterly refreshing for both living and sleeping.

No sky matches October's blue skies. The smell of woodsmoke and fallen leaves, especially when there is a snap in the air, is a fragrance to be cherished. Most of the bugs are gone, the heat and humidity of summer are muted, yet it's not so cold as to be uncomfortable.

The dread of summer is behind us and now is the time for James Whitcomb Riley's quintessential poem "When the Frost is on the Punkin." You could live forever on a fine autumn day.

Nelson is a Fargo postal worker and regular contributor to The Forum's commentary pages.

E-mail r.cnelson@702com.net

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