Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Definitions: Bug Dope

Something like catnip for insects.

Bug dope is a substance that makes crawly, biting things stop and scratch their tiny brainless, pointy, armored heads for a bit, which gives you a chance to escape with your hide intact, if you are smart.

How does it work then? Well, it works by clogging up their little feelers (where their smelling organs are located, if you can believe that) and sending waves of intense, confusing pleasure coursing through their bitsy, barely functioning neural networks, washing away all notions of poking holes in your epidermis, if only temporarily.

Bug dope may be an artificial chemical substance like DEET, or some kind of botanical.

It may be the essential oil of the lemon eucalyptus (and its active ingredient p-menthane-3,8-diol), which smells a bit like menthol and acts as a coolant, a nice added benefit on those hot days when you are staked out on the ground and left alone by your captors to deal with the ants.

This lemon eucalyptus oil has been found to be the only fully natural substance capable of deterring mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus. (Interesting, no?)

Unfortunately lemon eucalyptus oil is completely ineffective against other mosquitoes whose viral passengers can't figure out east from west, or have forgotten their compasses and have never even heard of the Nile, but still want to do you in.

But you can't have everything, can you? Even if you both need it and want it.

OK — back to dreary lane.

Bug dope may be icaridin, also known as picaridin, or Bayrepel, or KBR 3023, or simply plain good old hydroxyethyl isobutyl piperidine carboxylate just like the stuff your mother used to make at home on the kitchen stove on Friday nights after dinner.

Bug dope can be citronella oil, claimed either to be effective or not effective, but rumored to calm barking dogs, and useful in soap making in case you want to go in that direction.

Bug dope may be permethrin, which also kills insects, (a dead insect is a not-nippy insect), spiders, ticks, mice, and cats.

Bug dope may be neem oil, which repels your mealy bug, your beet armyworm, your aphid, your cabbage worms, your nematodes and your Japanese beetles, and kills your ants, your bedbugs, your cockroaches, your houseflies, your sand flies, your snails, your termites, and your mosquitoes (finally we get to the mosquitoes already).

And if you have black spot, powdery mildew, or the rust fungus, neem oil might help there too. Couldn't hurt, right? Maybe not.

And because it (neem oil) smells something like peanuts mixed with garlic it might also attract bears while simultaneously fending off vampires, in case you have a problem with too many vampires and not enough bears hanging around your camp.

Or your bug dope of choice may be nepetalactone, also known as catnip oil, which can be fun at parties, if you get invited to the right kinds of parties.

But then again, if you are invited to parties, the right kinds or not, you might come home again with some other kind of infestation, possibly in your pants, which can be a decent learning experience.

We few, we grumpy few, we rumply-hat geezers say to you Effort or Eff it. No sniveling.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Definitions: Poncho

The Araucanian people of South America, from Chile, were never subdued by the Spanish.

Not when they first butted heads in 1535, not in 1560, or 1590, or 1640, or 1750, or 1800. Never. Not even by the time Chile became independent in 1818. The Spanish invaders were unable to conquer them.

The government of independent Chile did, in 1881, but that doesn't count. By then it was a family matter, and by then the Araucanians had given the world something that everyone wanted, though no one knew it at first. That thing was the poncho, a blanket with a hole in it. How clever. Something so elementary and yet so ingenious that the Europeans had never thought of it.

Poke your head through the hole and there you are, dressed already.

Make a poncho of thick oiled wool and it sheds rain. Put a hood on it and it works even better. Still dirt simple, though.

The Romans, once upon a time, had tried the paenula, which was a loose, floppy garment with a head hole, but for them it was slave wear, and uncool. Totally.

But the idea couldn't be entirely let go of, and continued to bounce around through the Middle Ages. Back then they liked floppy things with hoods and such, like cloaks and whatnot, but it was the First Americans, the very first, who made the poncho a national costume.

We, the rest of us, those of us around here, finally adopted the poncho during the American Civil War in the form of a handy rubberized sheet of fabric, then kept bringing it back in better and better versions as military rain wear. Military people knew a good thing, and backpackers finally caught on too.

Nowadays you can get a poncho that folds up small enough to fit comfortably in a shirt pocket and still be big enough to wear or even to sleep under.

Aren't we lucky then? Thanks, guys.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Definitions: Water Bar

(1) Hiker trap. Something like a tank trap but for less intelligent moving objects, like backpackers.

The basic plan is to lay into the trail a stout plank or piece of timber, or a fence post, or even a line of stones. This cuts across the trail and downslope at an angle, ostensibly to route water off the trail, but really to serve as a toe stobber which will cause unwary plodders to trip and fall.

Extra points are awarded to the water bar engineer who can generate the highest number of face plants from one installation. Gold stars are awarded if stumblers vanish into deep trailside mud pits or ponds.

(2) A liquid dihydrogen monoxide (LDM) drainage diversion apparatus (LDMDDA). A drainage contrivance composed of an outsloped segment of tread inset with a barrier device (log, stone, or shaped timber) which is placed at a 45 degree angle to the trail tread. LDM on the trail will then not flow far and will not erode the trail, but will instead be diverted by

  1. The trail surface outslope itself, or
  2. The implanted barrier.

If (a), the trail surface outslope, then flowing LDM will shoot off the side of the trail and out into the air. In this eventuality one may hear an excited Weee! sound coming from the expelled LDM, which is known to enjoy the thrill of being flung into free space.

If (b), the implanted barrier diversion route, one may hear only a low, purposeless and disconnected gurgling as water collects and begins incipient bog formation next to the trail. Best to avoid these areas, my friend. Trail designers prefer drainage dips these days for clearing trails of superabundances of LDM, though the actual trail builders continue their preference for hiker traps because the latter provide a richer amusement quotient.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Definitions: Xerosere

Make mine crunchy, with a sprinkling of crustose lichen, please.

We're dealing with plants here. Plants.

How plants start growing on bare ground, get old, die, and are replaced by other plants in succession. It happens.

Plants — all plants — like water. What is different here with this xerosere thing is that water is zeroed out. You can't expect things to work up too much speed in that environment, and they don't. What was our first clue?

The plants you encounter in xerosere conditions are likely to have bad attitudes, not to have team any spirit at all. They are loners with personality problems. Spikes, spears, thorns, prickles, pokers — any sort of jabby thing you can imagine — these plants have 'em.

"Xeros" means dry and a "sere" is one snapshot in the endless evolution of a community. Xerosere. Hardscrabble.

Start with a dry habitat. Say, for example, bare, hot rock, and move on from there, and you've got the idea. These places can be interesting in the way that dunes, sand deserts, salt deserts, and rock deserts can be interesting, mostly in a bleak and abstract way, but they never are all that welcoming, even if you're a plant with all sorts of spines and pokers pointing out in every direction. Even then you have to fight your way in, and then what have you got?

Get it?


  • A primary ecological succession beginning with solid bedrock, coarsely broken rocks, or fine rock and sand particles.
  • A series of successional stages beginning on a dry habitat.
  • Broken, oil-stained pavement where your hiking trail used to run through the forest.

No, xeroseriously.