One does not need know me long in order to find out how much I hate mosquitoes… especially in
a place like the Boundary Waters, where every molecule of air seems to produce another
mosquito.  I can frequently be seen doing a strange mosquito-swatting dance while making weird yelling noises when those tiny, humming bugs are particularly fierce.

About this time last year, I determined that I would probably achieve enlightenment the day I found out why mosquitoes exist. Well, today I’m here to report back.  No… I still haven’t learned why they exist, nor do I expect I will anytime soon.  But I have had a few realizations in the past year, and one in particular pertains to mosquitoes.

The outhouses at Wilderness Canoe Base are a great way to attain information.  There are posters about nearly every plant and animal you can find up here.  One day earlier this summer, I found myself reading a poster about luna moths.  I wasn’t trying particularly hard to retain the facts I was reading, but one fact stopped me.  Did you know? Luna moths store up all their food and energy in their caterpillar stage and don’t eat at all once they become moths.  They only live about a week and their primary goal before their death is to reproduce.  My first thought was, “if that’s all they do, why do they even exist?!” A couple days later, I read a similar poster about mosquitos, and was once again awed by their short lifespan and how they only eat (mostly our blood) and reproduce during that time.  Once again, my thought was “Why do they exist?”

And then it hit me.  “Why do we exist?  Why do humans exist?” Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question any more than the same one in reference to mosquitoes.  Biologically speaking, homo sapiens really aren’t that different from mosquitoes and moths.  We may live much longer and place more meaning on our lives, but our main focus as a species is to eat and to reproduce.  Furthermore, humans certainly must do more harm to the Earth than mosquitoes do, mostly because we live as though the Earth and all its creatures exist almost entirely for our
use and benefit.  I suppose I can’t say for certain that mosquitoes don’t  act and feel the same way, but it seems to me that they are more “one” with the world and creatures around them than we are.

These thoughts reminded me of a song that has sort of become my motto or “spirit song” when I am up here.  Now I recognize that the Disney movie Pocahontas is not historically accurate, but it conveys some strong messages and the song Colors of the Wind is one of the more profound songs I’ve heard in my life.

You think you own whatever land you land on.

The earth is just a dead thing you can claim

But I know ever rock and field and creature

Has a life, has a spirit, has a name.

You think the only people who are people

Are the people who look and think like you.

But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger,

You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.

Come run the hidden pinetrails of the forest.

Come taste the sunsweet berries of the Earth.

Come roll in all the riches all around you

And for once, never wonder what they’re worth.

The rainstorm and the river are my brothers.

The heron and the otter are my friends.

And we are all connected to each other

In a circle, in a hoop that never ends.

I find these words to be so humbling. Though intended for a European settler arriving in the “New World” in the 17th century, they are still so relevant today.  We, humans, so often see the world as something for our benefit and we question the existence of things that don’t benefit us…like mosquitoes.  But this song, though it does not speak explicitly of God, can be understood as saying that all living things, all of Earth, all things under the sun are equal and beautiful to God.  Even living and non-living things are equated – “the rainstorm and the river are my brothers.
The heron and the otter are my friends.”

Furthermore, there are so many systems, processes, and cycles that connect all beings, that the complexity of the human body and brain is only a mere reflection of the complexities of the earth and the roles of each drop of water, each landslide, each sunset, and each mosquito. Who am I to say that I am of more value than a luna moth because I am bigger and live longer?  It, like myself, is part of God’s great colorful canvas of creation.

Perhaps my favorite part of “Colors of the Wind” is the refrain:

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the bluecorn moon?

Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grins?

Can you sing with all the voices of the mountain?

Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

Those last two lines especially catch my attention, because they don’t immediately make sense.  Of course, mountains can’t really sing and the wind has no color, because it can’t truly be seen at all.  Yet, as I dwell longer on the lyrics, I once again consider the complexities of the world that we likely haven’t the capability to understand.  I am only limiting myself by dwelling on what my senses tell me the wind and mountains cannot do.  By opening my mind to the possibilities that mountains can sing and the wind can have color, I am also expanding my senses to endless possibilities of new experiences and understandings.

There was a time when our senses were all we really had to survive in the world.  People would track animal herds for food, smell the coming of a storm, taste whether berries were good to eat or not, feel the warmth of a fir, and listen to animal calls for warning signs.  But as our technology has advanced, we have weakened our senses and our value of them.  God gave us five (or more) incredible senses so that we could navigate, appreciate, and learn from the world.  We should make a goal to focus on expanding our senses, one at a time or all at once – taste the sunsweet berries of the earth, smell an approaching storm, touch the hand of a friend, hear the waves hitting a canoe, see the spider webs that thread between all things.  By doing so, we open ourselves up to the complexities and connections, to the colors and songs, to the simple beauties that God created… and, if we’re lucky, we might find the value of a pesky little mosquito.

— Solveig Orngard, Naturalist at WCB, Summers ’14 and ’15