Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Determination of Gnats

There's a painting I may try again when conditions are better. The first time I tried to paint this scene on location, the conditions were terrible. It wasn't severe weather, a rattlesnake, or a gun flashing weirdo that sent me packing, at least not this time. It was the seasonal plague of the high desert pinion/juniper country, the no-see-um (Tormentus Woeisus.)*

No-see-ums are tiny dark gnats that would probably go unnoticed if it weren't for the irritating bites they can inflict out of all proportion to their tiny size, sometimes in large quantities. They infest the pinion/juniper country of the southwest U.S. generally in the months of May and June. Visually unimpressive, you may not even see no-see-ums before they get you. If you looked at one under a powerful magnifying glass, it might look like this:

Long sleeved shirts and long pants help defend against their assaults. Tucking in clothing helps, too. If there are any gaps in your clothing, however small, no-see-ums will find them. You will know when they do. These little vampire gnats are small enough to crawl through the weave of knitted socks and bite your ankles!  DEET never deterred them from my blood. However, in visitor center gift shops of some Southern Utah state parks, I found an insect repellent that works. It's called "Bug Away," and comes in little two ounce bottles. Some people find that sunscreen or baby oil works to protect exposed skin, too.

My first experience with a no-see-um mass attack was one early June at Hovenweep, in the Four Corners area. The pastel painting I attempted at that time never quite got finished. I had to flee back to my car to protect what was left of my skin and my sanity! There were over two dozen bites on each of my arms, plus more on my face and scalp! The welts lasted for maybe two weeks or so. Around a year later, I experienced similar gnat conditions at Capitol Reef National Park. This time I was prepared! I had my "Bug Away" repellent and those little bloodthirsty beasties weren't going to get me. Indeed, even though no-see-ums swarmed thickly around me, I was bitten only twice as I painted. I can deal with that. But another problem became apparent. This time I painted in oils. Fresh oil paint is wet and sticky. A bug or two or three stuck on an oil painting is not a big deal, and is easily dealt with. The no-see-ums that day, however, were swarming in vast numbers. First one, then two and three gnats stuck to the wet paint. I kept painting. A few more embedded themselves in the oily mire, and then a few more. I thought I could still succeed. The number of stuck gnats grew exponentially. After a while, I stepped back to take a good look at the painting. It looked like someone had taken a pepper grinder to it. Overwhelmed, I decided this was another painting the no-see-ums wouldn't let me finish. It seemed as though the gnats decided that if they couldn't get me, they'd destroy my painting, instead. Spiteful buggers! 

My unfinished painting, sprinkled with gnats.

No-see-um season should be about over now, but mind broiling hot weather is beginning to build over the Desert Southwest. It might be a little while before I can try that painting again.

*Not it's real scientific name. Seemed appropriate, though.
**Maybe they don't really look like that, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did.

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