Mosquitoes in the Woods
The Continuing Memoirs of
My Artist in Residency in the U.P.
I'm sure everyone at one time or another has been bothered by mosquitoes, so I wasn't too concerned when I read about them in the Porcupine Mountains guidebook. But it turns out that in the U.P., common repellents actually attract the little spear carrying devils inviting them to the blood feast ahead.
When I'm painting, I'm a stationary target for mosquitoes. While hiking, I can stay a little ahead of the nasty monsters and it's harder for them to get a good needle pierce in before I detect it. But sitting quietly, distracted by my work, they can land lightly and insert their blood sucking device without notice, and a substantial amount of blood can be let before I discover them.
On my second day in the woods, I had found a great spot to paint next to a creek. I knew the mosquitoes were bad, but I had applied a fair amount of extra strength repellent, so I wasn't too concerned. After about a half hour, I had given so much blood I was in danger of becoming anemic. There were (and I'm not exaggerating) about two hundred mosquitoes on and around me as I painted. The high-pitched whining sound they gave off as a group was deafening. They were bitting through my pants, my shirt and my hat, even through my thick wool socks. I tried to ignore them. I reached back at one point to scratch a bite on my backside and discovered that my entire backside was one big bite! That was it for me. I had to do something or abandon my painting- or, possibly leave the woods for good.
I had purchased a spray from a wilderness supply store before my trip to the U.P. The sales person said was great for spraying on clothing as a repellent. Since they were biting through my clothes, I figured it was time to apply it. I sprayed the stuff all over me, literally soaking my pants, heavy wool socks, hat and shirt with it. As a result, I got a lot of it on my skin as well. After I finished spraying, I noticed that there were no mosquitoes buzzing around me anymore. Good, I thought. Then, I sat down to read the directions. The directions said: "for clothing spray only. Do not allow contact with the skin. If contact with the skin is made, wash the contaminated area well with soap and water for fifteen to twenty minutes, then call poison control immediately." Well, the contact with my skin was pretty much full body...and I didn't have any way to wash even my hands for fifteen or twenty minutes. The creek was only a few inches deep, and ice cold. So, I asked out loud to the forest: how bad could it be? Maybe they just put these warnings on the bottle because they are legally required to. (I had to hope this at least.) What were my options? I decided to ignore the warning and sat down again to paint, in my spray soaked clothing. I watched as the first mosquito landed on my thigh and fell over dead on the spot! Good Lord, what had I done? Poisoned myself in the middle of the forest?
Deciding that I couldn't completely ignore the warning any longer, I stripped off my wet clothing and hung it up to dry, near me...as a warning to the little pests that I was dangerous. Then, I washed off as best I could under the circumstances. But I'm sure it wasn't sufficient as no mosquitoes came near me after that, even in my alternate set of clothes.
The following day, I drove a half an hour into the nearest town to call a friend of mine. Repellent in hand, I read the active ingredients to her while she looked them up on the internet. "Have you had any seizures yet?" she asked. I wasn't sure if I would know if I had had one or not, so I said no. "Well, any trouble breathing?" Not unless I'm going up a hill I thought, but I had trouble with that before the spray, so I said no. "Well, then I guess you'll just have to worry about whether there are any long term effects." What were those, I asked her. "It doesn't say." She said.
I'm happy to report that I'm still OK. But, to any of you who want to try the clothing spray, I would reccommend following the application directions. I would have to say that one long-term effect was that not a single mosquito touched my arms, legs or neck for the next two weeks, but they did still bite my ankles if they were exposed.