After my morning run and swim the other day I prepared for a relaxing respite on the deck and carried out a bowl of Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruit, a can of club soda and the latest issue of The New Yorker.
Plopping down on my favorite Adirondack chair, I carefully balanced the bowl and can on the wide chair arm, and flipped to the cartoon contest on the back page, which I always look at first before reading the table of contents. Birds chirped merrily, the sun shone brightly, a gentle breeze rustled the oaks.
My reverie lasted about 2.67 seconds.
Wham! Out of nowhere a whiteface hornet dive-bombed my arm with its stinger, causing me to leap out of the chair, knock over the bowl and can, and shout a few colorful phrases that for our purposes can be translated to: “Gosh darn it, you nasty bug, I wish you hadn’t done that.”
In another 2.67 seconds my arm throbbed as if I had shot it with a nail gun loaded with a 16-penny 4-incher dipped in hydrochloric acid, and then swelled up to the size of William “The Refrigerator” Perry’s quadriceps.
This would have been unpleasant enough if I hadn’t, just the day before, found a deer tick embedded in a place most people would prefer to be free of latching arachnids.
And the day before that I had strolled out to the garden and discovered slugs had chewed up all three dozen of the basil plants I had tenderly placed in the ground while visions of pesto pizza danced in my head.
In short, it’s been a typical season under siege by insects.
Let me be clear: I’m not complaining. Those of us who savor the great outdoors realize you have to take the yin with the yang — in order to savor a glorious adventure on a mountaintop or the high seas, or simply sit on the deck, you often have to endure a biblical plague of mosquitoes, black flies, no-seeums and other flying, crawling, stinging pests. It comes with the territory.
Over the years I’ve tried all sorts of insecticides and bug-repellent clothing, with mixed results. The most effective deterrent is N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, abbreviated as DEET, which most commercial insecticides contain in varying concentrations, but health authorities warn of potential side-effects ranging from nerve damage to, in extremely rare cases, death. Given the choice I’d rather swat the malefactor with a rolled-up New Yorker magazine.
I’m not big on folk remedies, but while I was out running a few months ago a car pulled alongside me and the driver rolled down the window to advise me, “Hey, the next time you’re out camping, try smearing yourself with Vicks VapoRub. No mosquitoes!”
So far this year the skeeters haven’t been too bad, so I haven’t had a chance to test this suggestion. It does remind me, though, of Avon Skin So Soft treatment that was all the rage a few years ago.
I dutifully slathered on gallons of the lotion before venturing into the woods, and still managed to contract Lyme Disease, not to mention experience near-exsanguination from skeeters, black flies and other blood-suckers. On the positive side, I had smooth and radiant skin all summer.
While kayaking the other day with my buddy Bob Carlson, he reminded me of an ill-fated canoe trip we made to the Canadian wilderness, when the mosquitoes and black flies were so relentlessly horrific we dove into a murky lake in desperation.
This seemed to work, until we emerged from the water covered in leeches, like Humphrey Bogart in that disgusting scene from “The African Queen.”
So at least as far as bugs go, things could always be worse.
Look on the bright side: Here in New England we don’t have scorpions, Brazilian fire ants or tarantulas — yet.