If you have spent time in the woods this August, then you have probably been faced with a swarm of mosquitoes buzzing around your head just as we have here at Audubon. Last week, my group of 11 and 12 year olds made our way around the Big Pond Trail. We walked down Bluebird Field and across the back section of trail that borders the pond with little issue.
It was when we entered the forest again that we hit a wall of mosquitoes, and I really do wish that was just a figure of speech. We were a little spread out and I was with a couple of kids at the back as I watched the day campers up ahead abruptly stop, retreat back a few steps, and tear their backpacks off to pull out their bug spray. In the span of five feet we had gone from maybe a couple mosquitoes hanging around to a swarm around each person.
Hiking or walking can be a meditative activity for many people. Most of the time, the repetitive act of walking for an extended period of time and exploring either new or familiar places just makes me happy and slows my thoughts down.
Occasionally, this calm feeling is a little harder to achieve when the weather, temperature, or wildlife team up to throw you a curveball that messes up your plans. There are closed trails, heavy rains, sweltering temperatures and of course, the tiny buzzing critters that can cut any summer outdoor activity short or make it just plain miserable.
Mosquitoes, flies, gnats and all the small insects that fly around, constantly trying to land on you, bite, or poke at you, are a challenge frequently encountered in the summer months. Extended time with swarms of mosquitoes tests the mental fortitude and outlook of the most seasoned outdoors person. When the temperature and humidity make for the perfect mosquito conditions and the mosquitoes are out in large enough numbers, bug spray of any kind can only protect you so much.
In the end, you just have to make a decision whether to push through and deal with the bug bites, the itching, and the buzzing or to turn around and leave. However, there are plenty of times when the option of leaving is not an easy out, whether it is one section in the midst of a longer hike, you have to be there for a program or your job, or if you have specific plans that you or a group of people want to see through.
Spending time in areas with large amounts of mosquitoes is never comfortable. There are things you can do to help like using bug spray, wearing long sleeves and long pants, or buying a bug net that goes over your head, but inevitably, you are going to get bit and end up with some itchy bug bites. Everyone reacts differently, so for some this is not a huge problem, but others may swell up and be itchy for days. Knowing how buggy it will be along with other weather and wildlife conditions should also be a huge consideration when deciding where and when to visit certain outdoor areas.
When planning a trip, the decision-making process often revolves around the participants physical ability to complete the distance or terrain, but many people often forget the mental and emotional energy that can make or break a trip outside. Having a negative mindset can ruin an adventure for yourself and those around you if you let it persist. While shared group suffering through a challenge can definitely be a vehicle for group bonding, there is a line where that melts into actual bickering and leads to an unenjoyable experience.
Adverse or undesirable conditions, whether mosquitoes or other environmental factors, can test your ability to remain positive and see the task through. I spent a couple of years working on conservation corps and trail crews and despite the differences in terrain, organizers, and distance, there are several things many have in common. One of those common factors across the country is the repetition of the acronym “PMA”. PMA stands for “positive mental attitude” and it is a tidbit shared in the morning safety circles. Largely because it’s fun to yell, but more importantly because your attitude can greatly affect not only everyone around you, but also the choices you make. If you have a negative attitude towards the situation you might be more likely to make a mistake or do something unsafe because you are just trying to get it done.
It’s not always easy to keep up your PMA and it is definitely something that takes practice. The more time you spend outside, the more you end up testing your ability to mentally push through things in addition to any physical challenges. You learn to reframe the problem, look at it from a new perspective, distract yourself or even just truly embrace how terrible everything is, knowing that it will be a great story later. You can choose to grow through these experiences, becoming more resilient, in addition to learning what you are willing to push through and when you need to take a step back.
No matter how much planning you do, nature still has the capacity to be unpredictable. By heading out anyway, you can figure out your limitations, learn how to be flexible and adapt to tough situations, and figure out how to bounce back from the things that tested you emotionally and mentally, all of which are things that apply to your life when you make your way out of the woods anyway.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.