Ann Olson has been teaching literature and writing at Heritage University on the Yakama Reservation in Toppenish, Washington for twenty-five years. She holds an MFA in creative writing and a master’s in English literature. Her essays have appeared in When Last on the Mountain anthology, North Dakota Quarterly, Emrys Journal, and the Raymond Carver Review.
Olson’s nonfiction, “Mosquito Hunt,” appeared in LPR’s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).
Q: I love the structure to “Mosquito Hunt,” in which one sleepless night provides a frame for struggles and memories of an entire lifetime. How did you come to this structure?
Well, I’ve lived through nights just like this, and I suspect many people have had similar sleepless times when our minds simply won’t give up on all the little things that we can distract ourselves from in the daytime. Why is it that all the worst parts of our lives want to present themselves at 3:44 a.m.?
Q: When you were living through this particular night, did you have a sense that you would be writing about it? And if so, did that change anything about the experience for you?
Oh no, not at all. In fact, it probably would have helped if I HAD thought about writing down the experience while it was happening (but perhaps that would have ended the worrying and I’d have gone to sleep instead?). But I think being there was necessary to see how those thoughts and worries were as constant and irritating as a mosquito buzzing in the ear. It helped me to compare the icky part of that night to the hunt and subsequent bloodiness of the mind’s “mosquitoes.”
Q: You reveal a lot about your family in this piece. Have you received any pushback from family members? How might other nonfiction authors handle similar situations?
Yes, my son-in-law found this story and read it and was mildly shocked that he was mentioned, and perhaps he didn’t react well to being described as having a “hang-dog” look. We also had some coincidental timing that has taken on some regrettable facets; for example, in the story I mentioned one worry about my daughter’s being too much like her grandmother who experienced a series of miscarriages. When my daughter became pregnant this summer, I couldn’t get this particular worry out of my head, and I really need to. I don’t want any negative thoughts affecting this beautiful part of our lives, and I hope she can be free of these worries—that my writing down gave her direct access to. I suppose it might help to offer drafts for family members to comment on, but when I first wrote this, it was more of a personal outlet, and it was ten years old before I considered sending it anywhere for publication.
Q: How did your summer end up on Buffalo Lake?
That particular summer was, as I said, ten years ago, but we have spent a total of 35 summers so far. This year we get to extend our stay because Steve is retired, and I’m on phased retirement with online classes. It’s been great. We just went on an exploring trip through parts of Minnesota we had never been to before, from Lake Superior above Duluth to Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi River. All my (summer) life I’ve lived within a day-trip of this marvelous place. Who knew?