...The leech socks remained tucked into the bottom of my backpack during a two-week stay in Somaliland. Somalia may have certain security issues, but leeches are not one of them. After a pleasant sojourn amongst the acacias of the Horn of Africa, I then flew to Calcutta and took an overnight train to the base of the Himalayas, in the northern extremities of West Bengal. In Darjeeling, I hired a jeep to drive me east, to the village of Lava, surrounded by leech country. Here, finally, I would have a chance to put the leech socks, and the handiwork of my friend Ashley Singer, to the test.
One looks a right nerd wandering the muddy cobblestoned streets of Lava in puffy blue gaiters, so I stashed the leech socks in my field bag and headed for the hills. After less than a kilometer climb up into the forest, I paused to catch my breath. There, bobbing and weaving at the tip of my boot, was my first leech. I flicked it off. Now paranoid, I had no desire to sit down anywhere to put on my socks, as this would doubtless allow hordes of leeches direct access to my soft, white flesh. Swaying on one foot, I removed the boot from the other. Standing on the one leg like a stork, I realized I was imminently going to fall over and harm myself. I sat down hastily on a somewhat dry rock and "socked up" in a hurry.
Like a lover, leeches smell your heat, inching their way towards where you stand in a moist and misty forest grove, contemplating the bounty and beauty of nature. Do you think inchworms are cute? There are only two differences I can find between them and their Austro-Asian cousins: arboreal leeches are black, and they like to suck your blood. They move exactly as inchworms do, by alternately moving the front and back halves of their bodies, stretching forward, then bending double as they bring their rear grabbers up to meet their front. This might look cute in green; on a leech, that moment of indecision when the creature lifts up on its hind whatevers, swaying its body this way and that, is particularly revolting. Because you know it is sniffing the air for flesh, your flesh.
For the next seven hours or so, I thrashed about in the jungle, searching for rusty-bellied shortwing, blue-fronted robin, hoary-throated barwing and other birds most people have never heard of.* Between bouts of sweating profusely, I obsessively examined the rich blue denim surface of my socks, I found nary a leech, and can therefore proclaim the leech socks an unqualified success.
Warning: Graphic images follow. Parents, please control your childrens' internet privileges. I cannot blame any failure of the socks for the disturbing images you are about to see; I suspect the guilty leech came from somewhere up above.
*All seen except the blue-fronted robin. Leeches or no leeches, I suppose I shall have to go back.