OF THE MANY phobias I cultivate, such as the fear of the government, fear of the mailbox and the fear of work, to name a few, it is the fear of bugs that is the most debilitating. With the frequent rain and the warmth of the summer sun, we seem to have a bumper crop of bugs — which can transform the most relaxing walk in the woods into a symphony of suffering the moment you stop moving.
Where you sit to catch your breath amid the hum of bloodsucking mosquitoes and their miniature fellow travelers, the no-see-ums. While you try to swat the mosquitoes, the no-see-ums crawl in your nose, eyes and ears. Then, there is the silent stalking of the blackflies and their sneaky cousins on steroids, the vicious horseflies. While one horsefly gets your attention, another horsefly creeps up from behind to bite a bit of tender flesh where you least expect.
That’s when you need the buddy system. Someone to watch your back and swat the bugs sneaking up from behind.
It is during this time commonly referred to as bug season one can observe campers swatting each other with hats and tree branches even before the booze hits.
It’s a bug battle that gets worse with every passing day. Then, there is the ominous buzz of bald-faced hornet and yellow-jacket nests. They are getting tired of being waffle-stomped by the hordes of hikers on our trails. The first hiker to pass by is liable to get off with a warning. The next will receive a full measure of the hornet attack with devastating results that can ruin your day.
Still, it is the mosquitoes I hate the most.
They can transform your wilderness adventure into an unending torment of biblical proportions. Animals such as deer and elk will travel to the river bars or migrate to the ridge tops and snow fields to escape the bugs, but most people are not that smart. They tend to stay in the woods and heavy brush where they soon become bug bait. People become savage and desperate with helpless anger against an enemy so small with such a large appetite. Which can call for desperate measures.
While some outdoor enthusiasts use a variety of chemical bug repellents to repel biting insects, the results can be disappointing and temporary. Water or sweat may wash the bug repellent off. Or you may miss a spot on your hide where the bugs will target the ripe flesh, leaving a variety of nasty welts.
Other outdoor enthusiasts look for a better solution.
Anthropologists have documented a long tradition of human sacrifice back in the dark ages of human history.
Some prehistoric cultures were said to sacrifice virgins to propitiate the animist spirits of unseen forces that ruled the lives of primitive societies, protecting the majority at the expense of a minority.
With the difficulty of finding virgins this far upriver this late in the season, we are not suggesting the return of this controversial ritual to deal with the mosquito problem, no.
However, a modern variant of this ancient practice could alleviate human suffering in the present era.
Among any group of outdoor enthusiasts, there is invariably one person to whom the insects are more attracted than the rest. The first person to slap a mosquito and complain about the bugs is the designated bug sacrifice.
Have them sit apart from the group, so the hordes of hungry bugs do not victimize the rest of the campers.
It will all be worthwhile when the s’mores are roasting over the coals.
Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via [email protected]