Though it has been cool and breezy here so far--not good weather for bugs--I already bear on my neck the Mark of the Black Fly: a hard welt with a chunk taken out of the center, the first of many to come before the summer ends. Often the black fly wounds bleed copiously, and I go around looking some early Christian martyr, and getting sympathy from the locals: "black fly's got you--been gardenin'?"
Human-insect relations are a zero-sum game. The more of a certain type of human there is to bite, the less the bugs will bother other humans nearby, and conversely. I belong to that certain type of human. If you want your picnic guests to be free from the attentions of midges, mosquitoes, black flies and no-see-ums, invite me along. Having fed abundantly on my blood, the insects will fall sated to the ground, and leave your friends to enjoy themselves. I have come to regard my attractiveness to bugs as a special kind of community service.
That doesn't mean I don't believe in taking preventive measures. There are bug repellents on the market that will repel all the bugs of Borneo, but I feel that since I'm already absorbing dozens of chemicals that I don't know about and can't avoid, I should limit the ones I'm aware of. I'm happy to report that my herbalist/painter/gardener/yoga teacher-friend Dona (check out her website: www.artistseyestudio.com [sorry, my link-maker is on the blink]) has a recipe that does a good job of scaring bugs off, smells wonderful, and won't hurt you.
Here is how you make it. In a 4 oz. metal or glass spray bottle, combine 2 oz. Witch Hazel and 2 oz. water. Add 20 drops of lavender oil, 20 drops of tea tree oil, and five drops each of two other essential oils--thyme, rose, lemon grass, or whatever you like the smell of. Shake it well, spray it on your skin, and put the bottle in your pocket. Unlike the powerful stuff from the drugstore, which lasts all day, this mixture needs to be reapplied now and then, but you won't mind because the smell is so heavenly.
For children, use 25 drops of lavender and 25 drops of tea tree oil in the same Witch Hazel/water mixture, but leave out the other essential oils since they can be irritating to very young skin.
And now, having done my good deed for the day, I'll say good night.