Washington's numerous hiking trails offer a magnificent opportunity to commune with nature. But we must share the great outdoors with all sorts of other creatures: large, small, and very small. While bigger animals tend to avoid human contact, not so with their fearless counterparts from the insect world. Yes, August is prime bug season, when you're likely to spend almost as much energy swatting mosquitoes and deer flies as you are plodding to your final destination in the wilderness.
If such pests give you the willies, take heart from the formidable role they have played in shaping history. According to Mosquito: The Story of Man's Deadliest Foe, by Andrew Spielman and Michael D'Antonio (May 2002, Hyperion), these bugs and the diseases they carry helped stop Genghis Khan from destroying Western Europe and aided Sir Francis Drake's defeat of the Spanish Armada. While malaria isn't much of a threat in the U.S. anymore, the mosquito-borne West Nile virus continues to cause significant concern. Michael Crichton banked on this insect paranoia for his novel Jurassic Park; the DNA with which scientists rebirthed long-extinct dinosaurs was extracted from blood carried in the bellies of this tiny monster.
Enough already! Hasn't 21st-century technology discovered a foolproof answer to these pint-sized adversaries? Not really, but it's not for lack of trying. A story in Consumer Reports finds that the most effective mosquito block is a 33 percent deet solution known as 3M Ultrathon ($9 per 2-ounce tube). Deet often produces allergic reactions and shouldn't be used around young children and animals—or, for that matter, clothing that you have any particular affinity for. Sawyer Permethrin Pump Spray ($6.50 per 6-ounce bottle), an insecticide designed to be applied directly onto your clothing, also gets good reviews from CR, but it may also irritate those with sensitive skin. For a less toxic approach, try deet-free Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent ($6.00 per 3.5-ounce tube).
In the end, brainpower and superior planning are probably your best bets for this battle. Bugs congregate in warmer regions, within close proximity to water. So, plan for higher elevations that enjoy year-round breezes; the hiking reports at www.wta.org are a good source of information.
On Saturday, Aug. 3, the Seattle Architectural Foundation offers a walking tour of the Cascade Neighborhood, where modern technology labs mix with older working-class cottages. Tickets are $20 and must be reserved in advance. Call 667-9184 for information. . . . Also on Aug. 3, Joan Burton and Duse McLean offer a free walking tour of Lincoln Park. Burton and McLean are authors of the book Urban Walks: 23 Walks Through Seattle's Parks and Neighborhoods. Call Hullabaloo Books at 937-0599 for details. . . . Finally, free tours of historic Fort Steilacoom in Lakewood will be offered from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays through Labor Day. Established in 1849, this post served as the first official U.S. presence in Washington Territory. Call 253-756-3928 or 253-582-3301 for driving directions and specifics.