The Ticking Woods
Nature has been a refuge for me my whole life. When I was a child, the fields behind the house were the place where I went to thing when things were going wrong. Many problems were worked out in between sweeping tall goldenrods and under the spreading branches of apple trees. As I grew older, camping, backpacking and mountain biking became important and some of my favorite after work activities. I even proposed to my wife outside on a trail that we had hiked together many times.
That’s why the dull red circle that appeared on my arm last summer was so disappointing. It was the first sign of Lyme Disease, soon followed by chills and joints that ached so much it was hard to walk. The tiny deer tick that gave me that distinct red bull’s eye went unnoticed, but it wreaked a lot of havoc in my life. For a short time, it looked like I might not be able to do some of those things I loved. Luckily, an early course of antibiotics treated the Lyme Disease, but it also built my awareness.
It’s been a standard joke in my family that bugs like me. I pick up the wasps in the house and carry them outside. Mosquitoes generally avoid me and go for the sweeter, more tender flesh of my wife and children. For years, I have gone through the woods without bug spray of any sort.
That is changing with the arrival of more ticks in the area. Deer ticks hang on tall grass and low bushes, waiting for an animal to grab onto. They attach themselves for a couple of days, gorging on blood before dropping off again.
It is fairly simple to avoid them. Simply wear insect repellent with DEET or permethrin, and they will avoid you. Do a tick check when you come back from an outdoor adventure, looking for the small black bodies of ticks. (Do the same for your dog, who may spread the ticks to your neighborhood.) Remove them slowly with a fine pair of tweezers, a tick key or one of the many other tick removing gizmos they sell.
You can’t get Lyme disease from a deer tick that doesn’t stay on your body for 24 hours or more.
They say getting outside every day is good for you. It’s relaxing, calming and enjoyable. Frankly, I have gone outside virtually every day of my life, and some little eight-legged tick is not going to stop that. It is, however, changing my approach. I wear bug spray more, do body checks for ticks more often and tuck my shirts in more.
I have now found deer ticks on me or my family from virtually all of our favorite hiking spots and bike trails. We don’t get them often, but it’s always important to check.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy has some beautiful trails to hike on and, while I have never found a deer tick on me after hiking on one, now I will always check. And, if you ever find red bull’s eye rash on your body, go to the doctor and get treated.
Jeff Tome is a Senior Naturalist and Exhibits Coordinator at the Audubon Community Nature Center, a former CWC board director and a longtime CWC volunteer. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit chautauquawatershed.org or facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.