Robert U. Montgomery

August--- My Least Favorite Month


(From
Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies--- Growing Up With Nature)

Ask me what I like about nature, and I can write a book. Ask me what I don’t like, and I need just one word: August.

Your August might not be the same as mine, especially if you live in a northern state. My August in the Missouri Ozarks is hell on earth, with no regard for the calendar. Typically it extends from the middle of July to the middle of September. But it could raise its demonic head in early July and its forked tail might not slither into fall until October.

What don’t I like about August? For starters, mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, sweat bees, and flies. August is a banner month for them all here at my house in the woods. Only then do I barbeque before an audience of thousands, none of them human and all of them believing that I am the entrée. Only then am I crawled on, sucked on, and stung so many times that I feel them scurrying up my legs, scooting along my back, and whining in my ears --- even when they are not.
(From Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies--- Growing Up With Nature)

Ask me what I like about nature, and I can write a book. Ask me what I don’t like, and I need just one word: August.

Your August might not be the same as mine, especially if you live in a northern state. My August in the Missouri Ozarks is hell on earth, with no regard for the calendar. Typically it extends from the middle of July to the middle of September. But it could raise its demonic head in early July and its forked tail might not slither into fall until October.

What don’t I like about August? For starters, mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, sweat bees, and flies. August is a banner month for them all here at my house in the woods. Only then do I barbeque before an audience of thousands, none of them human and all of them believing that I am the entrée. Only then am I crawled on, sucked on, and stung so many times that I feel them scurrying up my legs, scooting along my back, and whining in my ears --- even when they are not.

Twice I have had to put the sticky side of masking tape to my body to lift off hordes of ticks so small that a half dozen would fit on the head of a pin. More than a little hair has been jerked off with them. But a bald body is a small price to pay in this war.

January and February might be cold. March and April might be unpredictable. November and December might be gray and foreboding. But, with proper attire, at least they all are tolerable. And at least I can concentrate on the task at hand, whether it is flushing quail, stalking squirrels, or tightlining catfish.

By contrast, August is a month when I can’t even enjoy a cricket chorus without traumatic flashbacks. It is a month of “too many” and “too much” for me to enjoy fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, or even picnicking.

Ticks hang on woodland weeds, waiting for me to pass. Mosquitoes hover in the damp shade along a lake or river, determined to make me anemic. Wasps build their nests in my canoe. Early one August morning, I also discovered that they occasionally inhabit sneakers left outdoors overnight.

Sweat bees, meanwhile, seem to be the voyeurs of the bug world. They hang by the hundreds around my windows and doors. When I dare to venture outside, they dart in to play tag in my ears and hide-and-seek in my nostrils.

On the water, or rather just above it, biting flies zoom about like F-16s, searching for bare flesh on which to feast. They particularly enjoy feeding on that tiny portion of my back that I can’t slap. They strike mostly when I’m casting or paddling, leaving bumps of Quasimodo proportions.

And then there are all of those bugs that don’t get a chance to bite me. Instead, they plaster themselves on wind screens, sunglasses, and yes, even my teeth. The fact that a pound of grasshoppers contains more protein than a pound of beef is of little importance when the bugs aren’t voluntarily consumed.

Too much foliage is another problem. It hides the bugs. Plus, weeds are at their seediest. Burrs, beggar lice, and other assorted nuisances eagerly attach themselves to my hair and clothing, with shoe strings being a special delight for them.

“Too much” also translates into a better chance for me to contract poison ivy. The plant is larger and more vigorous in August ---- and better hidden by other greenery that has spread to its fullest as well.

Thorns hide in the leaves, too, often felt before I see them. All of these weeds, seeds, and assorted insects suggest that long pants and shirts are required protection during the “dog days.” But then consider temperatures.

Heat also is too much for me in August. It bakes the land and boils the water, as searing sun burns the flesh of anyone foolish enough to spend time outside. Heat also steals breath away as it hangs in curtains, waiting for fall to force its way in with cool breezes. Digging bait or catching bass at midday is possible, but not worth the effort when the heat index is only a few degrees below “broil.”

At least the grass doesn’t grow as quickly as it did in June and July, but still it requires a trim from time to time. August is why I hire someone else to do the job. He’s bigger than I, and can more easily afford the loss of sweat and blood.

Swimming in the little lake behind my house offers little relief since the water in August is about as cool and refreshing as a cannibal’s stewpot.

Fish often bite better at night in August, but so do mosquitoes. Also, if the humidity is high enough, even darkness is no guarantee that the weather will be more comfortable than it was in daylight. Possibly the greatest benefit of night fishing is that sweat isn’t as visible a reminder of discomfort.

On the other hand, snakes aren’t as visible either, and they too are more likely to be nocturnal during August because of the oppressive daytime heat. That’s always a comforting thought as I stumble out of camp to heed nature’s call or find firewood.

What have I learned during a lifetime of Augusts? Insect repellents wear off at inopportune moments. Poison ivy can infect parts of the body that one would never suspect are vulnerable. And a 12-inch shoestring can accommodate 1,378 beggar lice.

As I write this expose, I have had to stop three times to kill gnats --- are at least try to kill them.

And as I look outside, where the bug armies await, I long to break ice off my rod guides and blow on my fingers to restore circulation. I long to get caught in an unexpected downpour during a spring outing. I long to walk in the bleak woods of early winter when all the leaves are dead and gone --- and along with them, all the things I hate about August.

Robert in bug net