---- — Late summer in northern Michigan.
It's prime time for idyllic walks in the woods, fishing on a local trout stream, or just relaxing in a comfortable chair on the back deck.
Those who call Up North home know how to soak up the sun as August fades to September and the looming too-short fall season. We takes big bites of the outdoors, fully aware that months of dark and cold await.
So it's particularly unfair that it's in this seasonal window that mosquitoes assume a role more ominous than their usual pesky selves. In Michigan and other states across the nation the West Nile virus is in full bloom, and the mosquito-borne illness already has claimed the lives of two state residents.
The Michigan Department of Community Health this week reported 41 cases of West Nile virus in humans, including two deaths. Eighteen new cases — and one death — were reported this week.
Northern Michigan thus far has avoided the stat sheet for human illnesses, and the virus appears to have killed relatively few birds here thus far.
Statewide, West Nile virus mainly has been identified in the southern part of the state, and not at all north of Midland.
That's the good news.
But mosquitoes love this time of year as much as we do, and they're just as ravenous for blood as we are for outdoor recreation. That's why outdoors lovers need to take precautions to avoid illness and, possibly, death from the little winged menaces.
By now, the anti-West Nile virus drill ought to be routine: limit exposure to mosquitoes during dawn and dusk hours when they're most active; wear insect repellent when in their realm; don long sleeves and long pants to minimize risk, and don't let water accumulate in stationary objects in or around yards.
State officials believe northern Michigan's largely dry spring and fall have contributed to the region's West Nile virus-free status.
But Tom Buss, Director of Environmental Health at the Grand Traverse County Health Department, said it's too early to throw caution to the wind.
"We're not out of the woods, so to speak, until the first heavy frost," Buss said. "People should realize that just because there isn't a problem here now, that doesn't mean it couldn't move north."
West Nile has claimed local residents in years past, but the lack of illness reports from this area bode well for our recreational plans for the next few weeks. Locals should play outside with confidence, but do so smartly.