Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Once more, my daughter and I headed off into the wilderness to take in a particularly sunny day, gather some wild food, learn a few new things and have a hot chocolate on the beach.

It when we reached the shore and lit a fire that my daughter, who normally presents with an almost allergic reaction to smoke, was quite purposefully standing directly its path, stepping side to side to ensure maximum coverage.

"What are you doing?", I asked.

"Bees!", she replied.

Smoke is normally considered an unwanted by-product of our fire, but it has many uses. In this case, my daughter was fumigating herself against the onslaught of the two bees which seemed to be occupying her personal space, something that is clearly more irritating than the smoke from fire (nice little inequality there for you).

On courses, smoke fumigation works very well for a couple of reasons. While students are making natural shelter, they note the prolific number of creepy crawlies on the bows from which they are making their roof for the night. The first fire they light clears them out very quickly indeed.

The next task for the smoke it to get rid of midges. Anyone who has found themselves out on a warm damp day will have been surrounded by the little buggers. There is a strange attraction of these swarming creatures to the synthetic smell of washing powder, shampoo, deodorant and other perfumes. This is why I use neutral antiperspirant, pine tar soap and Original Source Lemon shower gel when I'm heading off outdoors and why my compadre Wurz uses stones for washing clothes (which I must get around to some time). "Why the lemon?", you might ask. Well, it contains citronella in it, which is a natural insect repellent.

It takes a few days for your unusual smells to dissipate outdoors, but a good old fire will cover them very quickly. Some armchair expert will tell you that smelling like a bonfire is good for setting traps, as it masks your natural scent. Since we don't wear or exude "eau de predator" and your average rabbit does not have a scent match for human and association with "bad", since, in evolutionary time, we are not their natural predator, it sees unlikely, at best. The reality of the situation is that cautious prey animals, such as rabbits, have a sense of "different", and smoke is somewhat different to grass. So unless your rabbits are resident in an area recently razed by forest fire, your smoke ridden clothes will be somewhat off putting.

Our native British midges are generally nothing more than a bit annoying and the bees, wasps and even hornets are not deadly, unless you have a particular allergy. This is not the case with jungle dwellers who have two distinct problems they like to present. The first is environmental. Even the smallest scratch or puncture can become very quickly infected, since the ambient temperature and humidity are perfect for breeding. An innocent bite from an otherwise harmless insect can quickly turn to sepsis. I'm not talking about days; a colleague of mine got a himself a thorn prick in South America and instead of treating quickly with iodine, or some such, he let it go. Minutes later he had swelling, an hour later he was being evacuated and by the time he got to hospital, he was delirious. He didn't do that again!

The second insect borne problem is far more sinister. Carried by  female mosquitoes of the Anopheles genus, malaria accounted for around a millions deaths last year. Cerebral malaria can kill you on the same day, other forms a week to a month. In this time, you're pretty ill and other factors can take over, such as dehydration or malnutrition. This is on top of the fact that you might end up with some other infection. So you don't want any of that.

In the jungle, prevention is better than cure, and if you've not got a mozzy net, or something similar, then smoke is going to be your best bet. Of course, carrying tincture of iodine and anti-malarials as part of your survival and first aid kit is going to help a lot, should you get a nasty bite.

So, dear reader, when you next get smoke in your eyes, think of the many uses of this otherwise annoying collection of airborne particles and gasses. Alternatively, sit somewhere else. 

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