Ticks, Slugs, Skeeters, Wasps and Other Critters I Can Do Without

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.

Reader Comments


The Continental Divide Trail: 'Overall It's Amazing, But You Have To Be OK With Getting Lost'

After tramping more than a month some 700 miles along the fabled Continental Divide Trail, Mystic native Hilary Sueoka and her boyfriend, Dan Stedman, who started hiking April 22 at the U.S.-Mexican border, finally rambled from the...

The Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon: Racing Is The Easy Part.

By the time Phil Warner and I hit the water in his lightning-fast tandem kayak last Sunday for our team’s leg in the Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon in Lenox, Mass., we had already spent a good part of the morning lugging gear...

There’s No Accounting For Taste When It Comes To Favorite Mountains, Or Tacos

En route to a hiking expedition in Nepal’s Himalayas a number of years ago, my wife and I took a detour to India and spent a day bouncing along on a bus from New Delhi to Agra to tour the Taj Mahal.

Mount McKinley Renamed Denali: Better Than Mount Reagan

Three cheers for the Obama Administration’s decision this week to officially restore the name of North America’s tallest mountain to Denali, which is what early inhabitants called the 20,310-foot peak in the Alaska Range.

The Endless Summer: Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Remember when you were a kid how your mom wouldn’t let you have ice cream every day even though nothing in the world tasted better on a hot day than a double scoop of butter crunch?

My Favorite Kayak Race: The T.I.A.G.A.T.I.N.M.R. In Rangeley, Maine

Paddling like the dickens last Sunday on Maine’s Rangeley Lake, we competitors had two choices: steer clockwise or counter-clockwise around Maneskootuk Island.

Selden Island: Once A Bustling Quarry, Now A Quiet Haven

More than 40 years ago, Dave Wordell of Salem took his then-10-year-old son, Dave Junior, on a boat ride up Selden Creek, a narrow, secluded tributary of the Connecticut River in Lyme.

Life As A Lumbersexual

I can never remember – do you apply facial cleanser before or after the exfoliating scrub, and then finish up with healing balm and moisturizer, or should you start with the scrub, work your way through the cleanser and then top...

R.I.P. Cecil the Lion: Let's Make the Trophy Hunter an Endangered Species

The international outrage sparked by an American trophy hunter’s killing of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s beloved lion, justifiably vilifies the despicable practice of slaughtering wildlife for sport – but it also exposes the human...

All Who Wander Are Not Lost: Searching For The Elusive South Bog Stream In Rangeley, Maine

"Head for that tree stump," I instructed authoritatively one afternoon earlier this week, as if I knew for sure where we should be heading. I have learned to exude confidence when giving directions on any expedition, even...

Scott Jurek's 'Reward' For Breaking Appalachian Trail Speed Record: Three Summonses

When internationally celebrated speedster Scott Jurek scrambled last Sunday to the 5,269-foot summit of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, he broke the record for the fastest assisted hike of the 2,189-mile...

No Swimming at Seaside: What’s Next? No Hiking at Bluff Point?

Most of the time I’m reasonably scrupulous about abiding by government regulations.