Polebridge, MT: Heat, DEET, and No Retreat

Like much of the U.S. right now, we are suffering from a brutal heat wave. The highs are twenty degrees above average and we haven’t seen a significant rainfall for over a week (though we did hike in a sleet storm near Logan Pass on July 3). Combine this with the fact that we are in the middle of a meadow, without shade, living in what is essentially a spaceship-shaped solar oven with a big round window on top, and you’ve got something akin to Dante’s seventh circle of hell.

As if the heat weren’t enough, this morning we woke up to an army of mosquitoes looking down on us from the netting surrounding our bed. Too bad we never bothered to unleash the netting from its ties and secure its seams. Even more too bad is that we forgot to shut the roof dome. Just before sunrise, I awoke from a nightmare about fleshy, fin-like protrusions growing out of my arms and legs. How bizarre, I thought. How did my brain even come up with such disturbing imagery? But then I realized my left ankle and toes were burning with incredible, insatiable itch. And my skin was raw where I had unconsciously scratched the little deposits of histamine until they nearly bled.

Unfortunately, I had never heard the telltale high-pitched whining around my face and extremities during the night, the “zzzzzzeeee” which sends the alarm that the bloodsucking, possibly West Nile disease-carrying mosquitoes in their desperate last days of life are in striking distance. That’s because I had put in my spongy purple earplugs to ward against not only the sound of little Bosworth’s nocturnal antics but also the din of logs being sawed right next to my head. Once I removed them, I heard the dive-bombers whizzing around my ears and hair.

Realizing that we had been ambushed by the enemy overnight, I shook Chris awake and then stood up on the bed. Despite my lack of proper battle dress, I declared war. “We’re surrounded. Look at this!,” I said, pointing all around our canopy. “I’m not even sure what they are. They look more like miniature hornets than mosquitoes.” I closed in on one and smacked it as hard as I could, sending a sting through my palms and a jolt to my wrists. Blood splattered over the netting and my hands. “That’s a mosquito, all right,” Chris replied, looking at the kill I presented. “You just haven’t seen them engorged. They’ve been feasting on us all night.” The welts over his neck, legs, and arms proved the point. I looked at my limbs and torso and saw the same. We then engaged in defensive battle against our tiny attackers, taking out as many as we could, the cats looking on as if the gods must be crazy.

Steps to the new solar shower

After we cleaned up the bloodstained battlefield with Shout, we managed a moment of productivity during the early part of the day. I made pasta from scratch to pair up with leftover New York strip from the Northern Lights Saloon, some fresh-squeezed lemon, minced garlic, parmesan cheese, and a little rainbow Swiss chard from the garden; Chris built steps leading from the deck to the solar shower, making it easier for us to run from the bees after rinsing off. So, we did get something done. But then the heat began to sear us once again, and we were rendered useless.

“Pathetic,” was the word Chris used, but I like to think of our catatonic selves on the floor—enjoying iced water and frozen grapes (thank you, solar-powered SunDanzer refrigerator!) while listening to In the Woods, a mystery set in cool, misty Ireland—as wise. To do anything even remotely resembling physical effort when the temperature is hovering around 100 degrees inside an Easy Bake Oven is foolish. “Heat exhaustion is not an exaggeration. I mean, it’s not unreasonable to assume that one could die out here,” I’ve reasoned with Chris many times.

It’s breathtakingly beautiful out here, but it’s also harsh and we’re in a lifestyle learning curve, not sure of what a day will bring—including our nonhuman neighbors. From the nasty, stinging deerfly to the menacing grizzly whose well-traveled corridor we seem to be living in the middle of, predators are ubiquitous if often unseen. Sometimes, though, you can feel their eyes on you, a notion validated by Chris late one night when he shone our Coleman infrared flashlight on the outlying tall grass and woods and we saw four sets of red eyes shining back at us.

Bosworth surrenders

And then there’s the creature Chris saw on the way home from fishing, not an eighth of a mile away from the yurt. He didn’t get a good look, he said, but it was smaller than a bear and bigger than a fox, and not of the deer (or Cervidae) family. That leaves what, we wondered. A mountain lion? House cats are a favored delicacy among this species, which grows large around here, and I have to wonder if they’ve finally caught the scent of Smokey and Bosworth. Lord knows the windows are open at all times, and the litter box and food bowls sit snugly underneath them.

Back in November when we started on this adventure, snow piling up around the windows, I envisioned summertime nestled along the west-side perimeter of Glacier National Park as a bucolic, temperate, peaceful experience. I’d peck out the Great American Novel, or some such thing, while Chris fly-fished one of the only two wild and scenic rivers in the state, right here in our own backyard.

Instead, we’re at war. Us and against them, the bugs and the sun (we’re at tentative peace with the toilet). As I sit in our fort, sort of away from both, what comes to mind is mythologist Joseph Campbell’s theory that in the grand scheme of things our ultimate fate is “to eat and to be eaten.” And I wonder how on earth our forefathers ever made it in such an unforgivable land, with no bug spray, no air-conditioning, no running water, and only life-sustaining manual labor to toil away at everyday. Some succumbed, of course; but think of those who persevered. No doubt faith and dogged determination carried the day, and I feel like we owe our ancestors gratitude and respect. They have inspired us to press on and to refrain from waving the white flag, just one more day.

Evening mist is a relief

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  1. My friend, you are an exquisite writer. Ready for your book. 🙂


  2. Thanks, Aim. Material like this just seems to write itself …


  3. I am so glad you shared this. I love hearing of your life there and life in a yurt. I want to live in a yurt very soon, but in the mountains of North Carolina. I do not want to depend any longer on the power company to supply my power. I am glad the bugs did not carry you away. I could read your blogs all day long. Thanks again for sharing.


  4. Always good to hear about your life in the wild and agree with Amy you are an exquisite writer. Just to make you feel a little less pain, raw temps in Chicago today are expected to be 100 with a heat index of 105-110…miserable for sure.

    Keep up that pen to paper, or should I say keystroke to laptop!


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