Tuesday, June 15, 2010

biting gnats

i drove out, with sara, her mom, and toby, to sara's maternal grandparents' house to give her gramma a ride to the doctor's. i got out when her grampa invited me in for a quick drink of xiancao, a cooling herbal drink. sara told me to open the windows and turn off the air. i went in the farm house's dim kitchen. suddenly her grampa was warning me about mosquitoes, since i had shorts on. no, i said, they're fine. but sara's mom was simultaneously bending down and pointing out little black specks on my legs. it's nothing, i said, probably just something left from walking in the rain. grampa was smearing a strong-smelling goop on my legs. i realized the little specks were indeed sucking my blood!

and when i got back to the car, they were already filling the interior. unlike the black mosquitos here, which are preternaturally cautious, as if sensing your hands waiting to slap and deliberately going back out of range for a little while, these little gnats just fasten immediately to bare skin and begin sucking.

the whole way back home we were killing them against the windows. i recalled a public tv show from 2008 discussing the effects of climate change on taiwan. the one i remember was this: with rising temperatures, mosquitoes and other biting insects once confined to the southern end of the island will spread throughout the island.

'i don't know what they are,' sara's mom said, 'they were never here before.' she grew up in that house! which means she is an authority on what bugs were or were not there before. has climate change pushed a species further north, into her father's house? suddenly, this mellow household with its green hills and fields and gardens turns in my mind from a refuge to a danger. i don't want to bring toby there. how awful for these two old people, around them 24 hours!

and then i think: i hope they don't spread to yuanli! i already have curtailed sitting outside the front door of my parents in law's house because of the mosquitoes. these biting gnats make them look like a piece of cake. all screening would suddenly be obsolete.

those gnats, which i kept smashing against the windshield, leaving little bloody smears, made me think of the biblical plagues brought against the pharaoh of egypt.

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