Insects - Outdoor Skills
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Insects - Outdoor Skills

Insects - Outdoor Skills


Insects - Outdoor Skills

Insects - Outdoor Skills

WITH a large majority of prospective tourists and outers, "camping out" is a leading factor in the summer vacation. And during the long winter months they are prone to collect in little knots and talk much of camps, fishing, hunting, and "roughing it." The last phrase is very popular and always cropping out in the talks on matters pertaining to a vacation in the woods. I dislike the phrase. We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it. We get it rough enough at home; in towns and cities; in shops, offices, stores, banks—anywhere that we may be placed—with the necessity always present of being on time and up to our work; of providing for dependent ones; of keeping up, catching up, or getting left. "Alas for the life-long battle, whose bravest slogan is bread." As for the few fortunate ones who have no call to take a hand in any strife or struggle, who not only have all the time there is, but a great deal that they cannot dispose of with any satisfaction to themselves or anybody else—I am not writing for them; but only to those of the world's workers who go, or would like to go, every summer to the woods. And to these I would say, don't rough it; make it as smooth, as restful and pleasurable as you can.

To this end you need pleasant days and peaceful nights. You cannot afford to be tormented and poisoned by insects, nor kept awake at night by cold and damp, nor to exhaust your strength by hard tramps and heavy loads. Take it easy, and always keep cool. Nine men out of ten, on finding themselves lost in the woods, fly into a panic, and quarrel with the compass. Never do that. The compass is always right, or nearly so. It is not many years since an able-bodied man—sportsman of course—lost his way in the North Woods, and took fright, as might be expected. He was well armed and well found for a week in the woods. What ought to have been only an interesting adventure, became a tragedy. He tore through thickets and swamps in his senseless panic, until he dropped and died through fright, hunger and exhaustion.

A well authenticated story is told of a guide in the Oswegatchie region, who perished in the same way. Guides are not infallible; I have known more than one to get lost. Wherefore, should you be tramping through a pathless forest on a cloudy day, and should the sun suddenly break from under a cloud in the northwest about noon, don't be scared. The last day is not at hand, and the planets have not become mixed; only, you are turned. You have gradually swung around, until you are facing northwest when you meant to travel south. It has a muddling effect on the mind—this getting lost in the woods. But, if you can collect and arrange your gray brain matter, and suppress all panicky feeling, it is easily got along with. For instance; it is morally certain that you commenced swinging to southwest, then west, to northwest. Had you kept on until you were heading directly north, you could rectify your course simply by following a true south course. But, as you have varied three-eighths of the circle, set your compass and travel by it to the southeast, until, in your judgment, you have about made up the deviation; then go straight south, and you will not be far wrong. Carry the compass in your hand and look at it every few minutes; for the tendency to swerve from a straight course when a man is once lost—and nearly always to the right— is a thing past understanding. As regards poisonous insects, it may be said that, to the man with clean, bleached, tender skin, they are, at the start, an unendurable torment. No one can enjoy life with a smarting, burning, swollen face, while the attacks on every exposed inch of skin are persistent and constant. I have seen a young man after two days' exposure to these pests come out of the woods with one eye entirely closed and the brow hanging over it like a clam shell, while face and hands were almost hideous from inflammation and puffiness. The St. Regis and St. Francis Indians. although born and reared in the woods, by no means make light of the black fly.

It took the man who could shoot Phantom Falls to find out, "Its bite is not severe, nor is it ordinarily poisonous. There may be an occasional exception to this rule; but beside the bite of the mosquito, it is comparatively mild and harmless." And again: 'Gnats * * * in my way of thinking, are much worse than the black fly ior mosquito." So says Murray. Our observations differ. A thousand mosquitoes and as many gnats can bite me without leaving a mark, or having any effect save the pain of the bite while they are at work. But each bite of the black fly makes a separate and distinct boll, that will not heal and be well in two months.

While fishing for brook trout in July last, I ran into a swarm of them on Moose River, and got badly bitten. I had carelessly left my fly medicine behind. On the first of October the bites had not ceased to be painful, and it was three months before they disappeared entirely. Frank Forester says, in his "Fish and Fishing," page 371, that he has never fished for the red-fleshed trout of Hamilton county, "being deterred therefrom by dread of that curse of the summer angler, the black fly, which is to me especially venomous."

"Adirondack Murray" gives extended directions for beating these little pests by the use of buckskin gloves with chamois gauntlets, Swiss mull, fine muplin, etc. Then he advises a mixture of sweet oil and tar, which is to be applied to face and hands; and he adds that it is easily washed off, leaving the skin soft and smooth as an infant's; all of which is true. But, more than forty years' experience in the woods has taught me that the following receipt is infallible anywhere that sancudos, moquims, or our own poisonous insects do most abound.

It was published in Forest and Stream in the summer of 1880, and again in '83. It has been pretty widely quoted and adopted, and I have never known it to fail: Three ounces pine tar, two ounces castor oil, one ounce pennyroyal oil Simmer all together over a slow fire, and bottle for use. You will hardly need more than a two-ounce vial full in a season. One ounce has lasted me six weeks in the woods. Rub it in thoroughly and liberally at first, and after you have established a good glaze, a little replenishing from day to day will be sufficient. And don't fool with soap and towels where insects are plenty. A good safe coat of this varnish grows better the longer it is kept on—and it is cleanly and wholesome. If you get your face or hands crocky or smutty about the camp-fire, wet the corner of your handkerchief and rub it off, not forgetting to apply the varnish at once, wherever you have cleaned it off. Last summer I carried a cake of soap and a towel in my knapsack through the North Woods for a seven weeks' tour, and never used either a single time. When I had established a good glaze on the skin, it was too valuable to be sacrificed for any weak whim connected with soap and water. When I struck a woodland hotel, I found soap and towels plenty enough.

I found the mixture gave one's face the ruddy tanned look supposed to be indicative of health and hard muscle A thorough ablution in the public wash basin reduced the color, but left the skin very soft and smooth; in fact, as a lotion for the skin it is excellent. It is a soothing and healing application for poisonous bites already received. I have given some space to the insect question, but no more than it deserves or requires. The venomous little wretches are quite important enough to spoil many a well planned trip to the woods' and it is best to beat them from the start. You will find that immunity from insects and a comfortable camp are the two first and most indispensable requisites of an outing in the woods. And just here I will briefly tell how a young friend of mine went to the woods, some twenty-five years ago. He was a bank clerk, and a good fellow withal, with a leaning toward camp-life. For months, whenever we met, he would introduce his favorite topics, fishing, camping out, etc. At last, in the hottest of the hot months, the time came. He put in an appearance with a fighting cut on his hair, a little stiff straw hat, and a soft skin, bleached by long confinement in a close office. I thought he looked a little tender; but he was sanguine. He could rough it, could sleep on the bare ground with the root of a tree for a pillow; as for mosquitoes and punkies, he never minded them.

We went in, a party of five—two old hunters and three youngsters, the latter all enthusiasm and pluck —at first. Toward the last end of a heavy eight mile tramp, they grew silent, and slapped and scratched nervously. Arriving at the camping spot, they worked fairly well, but were evidently weakening a little. By the time we were ready to turn in they were reduced pretty well to silence and suffering --especially the bank clerk, Jean L. The punkies were eager for his tender skin, and they were rank poison to him. He muffled his head in a blanket and tried to sleep, but it was only a partial success. When, by suffocating himself, he obtained a little relief from insect bites, there were stubs and knotty roots continually poking themselves among his ribs, or digging into his backbone.

I have often had occasion to observe that stubs, roots and small stones, etc., have a perverse tendency to abrade the economy of people unused to the woods. Mr. C. D. Warner has noticed the same thing, I believe.

On the whole, Jean and the other youngsters Dehaved very well. Although they turned out in the morning with red, swollen faces and half closed eyes, they all went trouting and caught about 150 small trout between them. They did their level bravest to make a jolly thing of it; but Jean's attempt to watch a deer lick, resulted in a wetting through the sudden advent of a shower; and the shower drove about all the punkies and mosquitoes in the neighborhood under our roof for shelter. I never saw them more plenty, or worse. Jean gave in, and varnished his pelt thoroughly with my 'punkie dope," as he called it; but, too late; the mischief was done. And the second trial was worse to those youngsters than the first. More insects. More stubs and knots. Owing to these little annoyances, they arrived at home several days before their friends expected them— leaving enough rations in camp to last Old Sile and the writer a full week. And the moral of it is, if they had fitted themselves for the woods before going there, the trip would have been a pleasure instead of a misery.

Sears, George Washington. Woodcraft. New York: Forest and Stream Publishing, 1884.

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