The splashed-on defense

DESIRING to camp out in Maine, a couple from away approached me just before June broke out all over and begged me to tell them where to go to experience this extreme pleasure. I was about to suggest Caucomagomac Lake when I reflected they would next ask how to spell that, so I decided to offer Chemquamsebasticook or Mollychunkamunk instead, and just then they asked, ``And what about black flies?'' So I knew at once these good people and hardy adventurers were quite ready for a comfortable tenting area where water is piped on, electricity is present for the morning shave and the afternoon primp, and a man comes to pick up the refuse and check the TV set. They went, I understand, to Acadia National Park, which is a dandy place if you make a reservation. I'm pretty sure they have outlets for electric blankets.

Our official Maine tourism bureau never says anything about black flies, and I wondered how these people came to hear about them. It is the whimsy and frivolous pleasure of us Mainers to let our visitors find out about black flies after they arrive and have the tent set up.

There are several good answers to black flies, a ravenous insect coincident with the camping season, and the first is that if you don't like 'em, don't go. Second is that if you do go, learn to like 'em. They are friendly, ubiquitous, and when June blooms, numerous and in peak condition. Campers can look through the little screened windows of the tent and see black flies in swarms, winging their way back to the swamp with a bull moose to feed their young.

The trade name of the ancient, and best, answer to the Maine black fly is Woodsman. Today it is in competition with other products no doubt compounded with sophistication, but from its invention by a forthright and practical man who was striving for comfort in the woods rather than fame and fortune it has been our standby. You rub it on, and it stinks. Mercy! Indeed, it doth! One time Flats Jackson and I were on the trail, headed for a beaver flowage some five miles back, and we paused by a spring to rest and refresh ourselves. As we were chewing our wildcat and mustard sandwiches, Flats looked up and said, ``Couple coming out on the trail!''

Flats, in my estimation, has always been the best woodsman in Maine, and his keen perceptions always amazed me. ``Couple?'' I said.

``Eyah. Too strong for one and not enough for three.''

Flats took a deep breath. ``About a mile, I'd say,'' he said.

``How do you know?''

``Woodsman,'' he said, ``don't you whiff it?''

In a moment or two, I did. The definite and unmistakable stench of good, rich, ripe, ready, reliable Woodsman, the finest kind, wafting in the gentle June breeze, and almost at once along the trail came a great flock, or herd, of black flies - driven perforce by the patented stench in wild confusion and great alarm. It is this powerful super-effluvium that makes Woodsman effective, a consequence of a cunning concoction carefully compounded. More than once it has led people to say they would rather get chewed by the black flies than smell like that! Flats, with his keen nose, had recognized the spoor sooner than I, and he was corroborated when two men appeared. We heard their voices as the stench enlarged, and as men on a trail, walking perhaps 50 feet apart, will do - they were shouting to be heard each to each. But they also had to shout to be heard above the hum of the frustrated black flies some 10 or 12 feet above - hovering but daring to come no closer. I should explain that Flats and I were not wearing Woodsman that day, as the store we went to was ``fresh out.'' That is why we gave no warning of our presence until the two gentlemen walked upon us. True Maine campers are loyal to their Woodsman, and in fly time they are never hard to locate.

The more genteel campers, such as meat hunters, game wardens, timber cruisers, and poachers, would sometimes resort to a kib, which is and was a light frame made from split basket ash and covered with mosquito netting. When worn, it covered the entire body from the neck up, and the loose nether netting was tucked inside the blanket or under the shirt collar. Once inside, the victim could sleep without too much bother from flies, but on a hot night it could get stuffy inside the kib and the camper would have to come out every 15 minutes or so to catch a breath of air. Now and then a more fastidious camper would saturate the netting with Woodsman, just in case, and this held the flies at a distance so their humming and buzzing wouldn't be noticed. It also kept away the moose and the bears.

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