Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ticks, Damn Ticks!

I grew up in the woods. Not literally, of course, but the bulk of my childhood memories revolve around being outside, whether exploring deep, dark forests a stone’s throw away from my house or playing the seasonal sport of choice. Fall equaled football and basketball; winter meant sled races and snowball fights; spring and summer brought baseball.

Bugs of all sorts came along for the ride – ticks, mosquitos, flies. You just got used to them and pulled them off or slapped them when necessary. Not much more thought went into the dangers these creatures can sometimes carry.

One summer during college, I visited my brother and his family in Pennsylvania. His wife was from another country and was unfamiliar with the pesky bugs of the East coast. We settled on a trip to a local park for a picnic and some canoeing. At the welcome station, my sister-in-law was introduced to a horrible visage of a framed dinner plate-sized deer tick under the bold blood red word: BEWARE! She gasped, covering the near audible scream with a worried hand. This creature looked to be from a bad 1950s B-grade horror flick; the only way to deal with this thing was a bazooka which we hadn’t thought to bring!

In reality, a deer tick looks like a small freckle with eight legs. Wood ticks are slightly larger. People who spend a lot of time in the woods find unique and interesting methods for dealing with them. One co-worker opts for the chemical route. There are some nasty sprays on the market composed entirely of unpronounceable 20-letter chemical ingredients. He liberally sprays his clothing, even as he wears them, encasing his pant legs in fuming clouds of tick deterrent. For another co-worker, rants are added to the mix, a chorus the ticks ignore. Other field workers create games to go with the inevitability of finding ticks on one’s body: a version of pin the tail on the donkey. Each recovered tick is live-pinned to a board and a tally kept. I’m not sure what the prize is for winning but vengeance seems like a good one.

I choose to employ barriers to the devilish villains of the woods. I look like a Cossack, with pant legs tucked tightly into my socks. Shirt tails stay in my pants and long sleeves stop most bugs at my wrists. A hat covers my head. And yet, this does not stop them completely.

Ticks like to hang out, literally. They gather on grass stems or tree branches, waiting for some unsuspecting animal to jostle their perch and induce them to drop onto said animal. It’s their cue for a moveable feast. Some humans are like elephants in the bush, bulling their way through, practically sweeping for ticks. I have found that the opposite is perhaps as good a method for avoiding the menace as any. In moving with deliberateness and thought, disturbing as little as possible and yes, if one can say it, being in tune with nature, the way becomes clear.

I have come to realize that when I go into the woods or wetlands, it’s their territory that I am invading. They look at me as another piece of walking food, an opportunity for a quick eat-and-run meal. We humans like to think we have somehow risen above nature; in fact, we are as much a part of it as any other creature. This, I find, is a humbling thought.

Image: CartoGeek, Munising, MI, Sept. 2008

1 comment:

grete said...

Brauna -

I so much agree with your heading - as well as your last line: “Ticks, Damn Ticks” (for, yes, I’ve had them on my body, ugh!).......and......”we are as much a part of it as any other creature. This, I find, is a humbling thought” (I’m a nature lover as well. To be and breathe among trees - humbling!)


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