Last Saturday, during a visit to my family in Memphis, my partner and I went for a morning hike in Shelby Forest. It had been a while since I traversed the forest, going on three years. We planned for the majority of the day spent at the forest, walking and exploring along the eight-mile trail.
As soon as we entered the forest, we hit a wall of mosquitoes coming toward us. The hungry females were striped and brown. At first, I didn’t feel too bothered. I’ve lived all of my life in places where the population density of mosquitoes is fairly high. Wearing a home-made repellent of garlic, geranium, citronella, and peppermint while equipping a visor, long denims, and raincoat (despite the weather) usually keep me going for the day.
But this swarm of biting insects felt different.
A thick cluster of mosquitoes surrounded my body, buzzing in and out of my ears. I trailed such a long swarm that a larger fly began circling me, occasionally running into my eye. After only thirty minutes of entry, I fell into an uncontrollable panic. I began pacing back and forth, screaming, begging for them to show restraint with their hunger. I called out incoherent wails and began hearing voices closing in on me–all of them buzzing like tiny lawnmowers.
The delirium completely took hold of me. I darted back the way I came, running as fast as I could out of the forest. I sprinted half a mile without hesitation. Even when I approached the road, I didn’t stop moving because the swarm followed me. It wasn’t until we entered the automobile did I exhale. Soon after my exhalation, I noticed a spider on the hairs of my forearm and I sighed in comfort and relief, riding back to my mother’s house with a friend.
I share this story with you all because the incident has been on my mind ever since. Now I’m trying to conceptualize what happened and I don’t have an answer. All I have is the shame that I carry from it–the shame of running away. Was the wild of this forest too much for me? Or did I simply not belong in this place and was being chased out? What does this say about the current state of my animality? I thought about the story of caribou herds of Alaska retreating to the higher elevations to get away from the incredibly dense swarms of mosquitoes. Shelby Forest is nothing compared to Alaska in the summer time.
Yet even the realization of caribou evading mosquitoes didn’t console me. There’s more to being an animal than just the sentimental aesthetics of being alive. And the hyper-sensuous experience of being animal doesn’t necessitate that the sensation is pleasant. Perhaps this experience is a lesson in understanding my animality–becoming intimate with the reality that to be wild is to let go of the need for control and more or less be okay with it. My journey continues…