“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
…Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms
Strong and content I travel the open road.
…I think heroic deeds were all conceiv’d in the open air,
and all free poems also…
From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will,
Divesting myself of the holds that would hold me…
Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,
It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.”
-- Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass (1855)
* * * * *
Summer is “insect season,” of course (as is mid-to-late spring) -- and some of you are concerned about bugs and getting bitten. Here are comments I offered in Updates the past two summers:
Who loves bugs? Not most of us, I suspect, although if birds and other creatures who dine on insects could talk, they’d surely present a different point of view.
Most insects don’t bother us in any way, and we’re often not even aware of them. It’s the ones that fly in our face or try to bite us that naturally attract our attention.
Bugs are active in the natural world during the warmer seasons, and we need to learn to accept them -- while, of course, defending ourselves against the “biters.”
Some people who haven’t spent lots of time in nature have trouble tolerating insects and may get stressed out about them. It’s worth “making peace with bugs,” and learn to accept that they’re an integral part of the community of life on earth.
You don’t have to count them among your friends, but bugs do play important roles in serving as food for birds and other creatures, pollinating flowers, etc.
As I sometimes mention, it’s not uncommon to have one or two hikers in a group who seem to be singled out by insects. It can be worth trying to figure out why.
The use of scented soaps, shampoos, and deodorants can sometimes be a partial cause (using non-scented products a day or two before a hike is recommended).
Our diet could be another possible reason. There seems to be evidence that people whose diet includes lots of sugar may attract more insects (it appears that minute amounts of much of what we take into our body may be secreted through our skin).
Insects can locate us especially easily from our sweat -- and sweating is, of course, an unavoidable, absolutely necessary, and healthy part of the exercise of hiking.
Next week I’ll address the subject of bug repellents, including which ones are safest to use, and those that may be hazardous to our health -- and other ways to discourage insects from getting too close.
Bug populations in our area tend to drop off as summer progresses, so while there can be a new wave any time, they’re usually less abundant in August, even more scarce in September, and mostly absent altogether from mid-fall till early spring.
Also, many insects are less prevalent in the cooler, breezier mountain areas where many of our trips take place. On the vast majority of our hikes they’re not an issue.
Many of us who spend time in the natural world aren’t distressed about sometimes sharing our space with insects, as long as they’re not too abundant or pesky. If you feel otherwise, try to adopt the attitude that you’re not going to let insects bug you!
-- Charlie Cook