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Hiking with Bugs

June 2, 2013

Gnats, Black flies, Deer flies, Horseflies…we have them all where I hike.

Well, we are getting to the end of spring and so far there have been no black flies here in southern NH. There have been gnats, sometimes called “4-o’clocks” pestering us. They buzz around eyes, mouths, noses and ears hoping to enter. If you hike with your mouth open there is a risk of one flying in.. and worse are the times when they smash into an eye. I hate bug-spray; it feels like I am poisoning myself. But if I don’t want to be covered from head to toe with clothes in sticky, hot weather I have to use it. I spray my hat and neck hoping to protect my face… NOT…

Lovely and HOT.

Lovely and HOT.

Whenever I can find Sweetfern I stick it in my hat, shoulder straps and front pack. Then I carry some to swing around my head as needed. What a sight. And no one is sure that the ferns’ scent really does repel bugs. The emergency measure I carry is a head net. You put it on over your hat and tie it on each side next to your neck to keep bugs from flying up through the bottom. It dims the world, catches your breath and causes a sauna atmosphere and it just plain stifling and hot. So you see why I try Sweetfern fashion and wild swinging of branches first.

From Wikipedia:   Comptonia — The common name is Sweetfern or Sweet-fern, a confusing name as it is not a fern.

It is a deciduous shrub, growing to 1.5 m tall. The leaves of the plant are linear to lanceolate, 3-15 cm long and 0.3-3 cm broad, with a modified dentate, pinnately lobed margin; they give off a sweet odor, especially when crushed. The flowers are imperfect, meaning that no one flower has both gender parts. It tends to grow on dry sandy sites, and is associated with pine stands.

I looked and looked through my Peterson Field Guide of Ferns and could not find a photo or description. Now I know why. It is not a fern. Thanks to Wikipedia we all know that now.

Sweet fern tucked into the weight vest I use to make my hikes more of a cardiovascular challenge.

Sweetfern tucked into the weight vest I use to make my hikes more of a cardiovascular challenge.

Some hiking places are worse than others. Shade is worse than sun. Let’s see, we are in woods, in shade 80% of the time. There have been years when the horseflies arrive that I have started a hike, gotten a certain distance from the car, and been attacked. They don’t dive down and take a ferocious bite once. They gang up on you and buzz in pursuit. I try to stay calm and wave them off and stop breathing so they won’t be attracted to my warm breath. But that does not last long because they do not give up. So I start running and waving my arms hoping I can get so far ahead of them that they will give up. I think I just feel I am doing something and feel less like a plodding target. But it is annoying and disappointing to have to charge out of the woods and go to plan B.

Plan B, go to an open, sunny hiking location or put my head net on at the start of a different trail hoping the hoping the horseflies have not congregated there that day.

Viva New Hampshire. We love you anyway.

For more information link to Lady Bird Johnson Wildfower Center associated with the University of Texas at Austin.

Black Fly information can be found here. By the way, I do not consider Black Flies to just be gnats. Black flies are more ferocious and they bite. I am not even sure if gnats bite they are so tiny. Black Fly season is a hiker’s nightmare. A timeline of when the flies might start swarming in New Hampshire is considered to be Mother’s Day until Father’s Day. (not sure where or when I heard this but it gives me hope that they will disappear by mid-June as I steel myself to battle them on hikes.) I guess there is still a little time for them to pester us this year. Let’s hope not.

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