In my never-ending quest to find a deep meaning in the most trivial of circumstances, so that I may believe that the trivialities which surround me, and in fact, are me, have their roots in some unseen depths of existence, I am trying to attach some sort of Zen significance to the welter of mosquito bites on my arms and legs. “When hiking in the mountains, of what use is mosquito repellant left in the cabin?” This is a koan-lite worthy of much pondering, and, in fact, I have done just that most of today, when I wasn’t busy scratching my bites or putting anti-itch cream on them.
Indeed, one does feel that Life is teaching some sort of important lesson when, about 1 ½ miles into a 6 mile hike (in the Big Lake area near Hoodoo), one certain Student of Life realizes that for several years he has been staring at a bottle of mosquito repellant in a bathroom drawer at his Camp Sherman cabin, and idly thinking, each time he sees it, “That is good to have around. Some day it will come in handy.” Yet, this one never takes the crucial next step, that of putting the repellant into his hiking day pack where, indeed, it will be handy.
Early on I nonetheless paused on the trail, offering a better target to the mosquitoes, and went through every nook and cranny in my pack, knowing in my heart that the repellant was in the cabin, but hoping in my increasingly itching skin that a miracle had taken place, and the same God who is going to put a Mini-Cooper in my driveway had put mosquito repellant in my pack. And you know what? Neither miracle happened. I’m still driving my Volvo wagon, and I spent the next 4 ½ miles swatting mosquitoes, musing on how a tiny bottle of liquid could have made such a huge difference in my enjoyment of what would have been, apart from the biting insects, a pleasant excursion.
What else in my life, I couldn’t help thinking, would be so much better with just a little bit more attention paid to what would make it so much better? A butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil, the chaos theorists say, can lead to a typhoon in the south Pacific—owing to the mathematics of how the effects of small changes in complex systems multiply exponentially over extended periods of time. So, what small action could I take today, no, right now, that would hugely change my life next month, next year, next decade? What proverbial bottle of mosquito repellant is sitting in what proverbial drawer, waiting to dispel what proverbial swarm of malevolent insects?
I don’t know. If I knew, I’d apply the remedy without delay. However, the bottle of repellant is now ensconced in my pack, and I have eliminated one known risk from the ten zillion unknown risks that may bedevil me in the future. One last bit of advice: if you fail to learn from my experience, and find yourself surrounded by a swarm of mosquitoes midway into a lengthy hike, do as Laurel did, but which I, unfortunately, was unwilling to do. Swing your arms steadily up and down, up and down, somewhat like those power walkers you see striding along, and keep it up for miles and miles. I thought Laurel looked crazy, and she did, but there was no one around to see her but me and the mosquitoes, and the latter apparently were rather reluctant to come near a Loco Laurel. When we compared bites, I was the clear winner (or, rather, loser). So, don’t let pride come before a bite. Do whatever needs to be done when the mosquitoes have you on the run. Another koan-lite?