Ticks, Lyme, and Changing Habits

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Except for an occasional visit from a black bear or a face-off with a coyote in the woods, we live in a wilderness area with very few dangers. That is, until now. Who would have thought our biggest fear would come from an insect so tiny that it’s barely visible? There’s an “inquiétude” lurking in the air these days about being unfortunate enough to cross paths with the black footed deer tick.

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These fairly benign looking insects are the carriers of Lyme disease. People who have contracted Lyme will attest to the fact that their worlds have been turned upside down because of it. To receive a proper diagnosis and get the subsequent treatment can take years.

Lyme disease has moved into southern Canada and those of us living in rural areas are very aware of its presence here. Government protocols suggest keeping your body covered, tucking your pants into your socks, and spraying deet on any exposed skin. This might make sense if you are on a wilderness mission of sorts, but we country dwellers have gardens to plant and lives to live. That said, my husband and I and our closest neighbours have all had ticks in the last few years. We  got our little freeloaders doing everyday things around the house: weeding the gardens, mowing the lawn, trimming grasses and trees. In all but one case, they were discovered the day of and were safely removed before they could inject us with the bacteria. My husband did not discover his as quickly as the rest of us and developed the stereotypical bull’s eye rash. He was prescribed a round of antibiotics and has had no further symptoms.

So what is one to do? I think it comes down to living with a little more awareness. My husband and I frequently visit an area in Mexico where people share their space with scorpions. When we’re there we never walk in sandals except on the beach or the stone paths. We shake out our clothes and shoes before putting them on and  never reach for anything without being aware of what our hand is touching. We’ve never been stung, but it takes just one moment of inattention.

I usually dress sensibly when I am gardening or going into the woods but fairly frequently find myself wandering off path without really thinking much about it. I do wear a  baseball cap when I know I’m going to be in tall grasses or a woodland area and I always shower when I come back inside. I discovered my tick while I was in the shower. (I thought I had some earth stuck to my stomach and when soap didn’t remove it, I quickly got out to investigate.)

I’ve noticed some herbal tick spray remedies making the rounds on the internet these days.  The most popular one recommends 20 drops of lemongrass essential oil and 20 drops of eucalyptus oil ( Eucalyptus citriodora) to be combined with 4 oz. of water in a spray bottle. It is safe for humans and animals and can be sprayed on exposed skin or clothing. Last year I  purchased a pre-made bottle from our herbal store in town. It has a longer ingredient list but does contain the eucalyptus from the above recipe. The trick for me is remembering to use it.

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It’s not easy to change lifelong habits when it comes to moving about outdoors. Information campaigns have made people very aware of the potential danger, but what takes time is developing new practices to keep ourselves as safe as possible. For my part, I will be making my own herbal spray, hoping it will help to act as a deterrent. It will have its place in the entranceway along with my baseball cap and sensible shoes.

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Have a fun and safe summer everyone.

Long Walks, Short Walks, Walking Alone, Walking With Others

I have been procrastinating again, some might say obsessing. It happens to me when I am avoiding something – a task that I don’t want to do, an emotion that I don’t want to feel. Often it’s the combination of the two. The problem with procrastinating is that the source of the procrastination does not go away. It takes a whole lot of energy to avoid things and this blocked energy usually  always ends up somewhere in my  body screaming for attention.

This  is where walking comes into the story.  In one of my first blog posts from a year ago I wrote about taking long walks. I started it with this quote from Brenda Ueland.

I’ll tell you what I have learned myself. For me, a long five or six mile walk helps. And one must go alone and every day.

I went on to write:

I walk through all kinds of emotional landscapes. My angry walk is heavy and staccato like – each step an exclamation point. On fearful walks, I am alert to everything around me, fine tuned to all sounds and possible dangers. Sad walks are slow and watery as if I am willing the sky to descend and share the sadness with me. The road is my 3D journal. It holds the energy of my life and documents all its passages.

There is something that happens on long walks. With each footstep I come closer to something elusive that seems just out of reach. Sometimes an idea arrives on a wind current, sometimes it’s a knowing of the next right thing to do and sometimes it’s words that were stuck that spill out and have me scrambling to catch them before they disappear again.

………

 I’ve been walking again. It’s the very best way I know to keep the energy flowing.  I thought I’d take you with me this morning on a short walk to the mailbox.

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This time of year I like to walk through the field to get to the road. You can see the naturalized daffodils on the right of the path.
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The field enters the road right here. If you look up, you can see the willows and poplars are budding out. The leaves won’t be far behind.
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The woods are coming to  life again. I have to stop myself from detouring into the woods to check out all the new growth.
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Here we are. Not a bad view for a rural mailbox. 
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Our black lab used to always stop at this swimming hole on our way back.  You can see a marsh marigold blooming in the upper left hand corner. 
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Back into the field and a walk alongside the brook brings us back home.

Aah…   Feeling better now?

 

 

 

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“D” is for daffodil

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“D” is for daffodil

I watched helplessly last spring and summer as our resident chipmunk systematically pillaged EVERY SINGLE ONE of my more exotic bulbs.

He did not like the daffodils.

And that’s why it’s the one bulb every gardener should have in multitude in their gardens. It comes in an endless number of variations: short ones, tall ones,  white ones, peachy ones, single blooms, double blooms… and the list goes on.

fullsizeoutput_844It’s also the first cut flower to make its appearance in these parts. Dust off those vases!

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Sunshine in a vase.

As much as I love to see these beauties make their appearance in the perennial flower beds there is something I love even more about coming across them in unexpected places.These plants are native to meadows and woods in southern Europe and North Africa so maybe it’s that they just look more at home in a natural setting like this

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Whether you come upon them naturalized in the woods or nestled between later flowering plants in the perennial border, they are excellent harbingers of all the joy in store for us this flowering season.

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The Waiting Place

The Waiting Place….for people just waiting

Waiting for a train to go

or a bus to come , or a plane to go

or the mail to come , or the rain to go

or the phone to ring , or the snow to snow

 or waiting around for a Yes or No

or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

(From: Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss)

I love Dr. Seuss. But, I think he might have oversimplified the Waiting Place. I’ve been in the Waiting Place since after Christmas when my mother became sick and died. I waited in her hospital room every day while she was transitioning from this life… (to another?) And every day since her passing, I’ve been waiting to see what my life will become without the responsibility (and pleasure) of caring for this person who was the focus of so much of my attention these last six years. While I’ve been waiting, I’ve been taking care of business, travelling, and pursuing my creative interests, but it’s been waiting none the less. I think this is the nature of transitions. It’s that place between what was and what’s to come. Dr. Suess calls this “a most useless place”. Here’s where I disagree. I think it’s a difficult place, but not a useless one. Change rarely happens overnight or on a pre-determined schedule. His words do, however, carry a fair warning. There’s a danger of getting stuck in the Waiting Place. Sometimes we forget that we’re only meant to be there temporarily while our systems are  adjusting  and preparing for the change to come.

And the change will come.

One morning we’ll  wake up and realize that it’s spring. The robins who’ve been waiting too are suddenly singing at dawn with their newly found purpose. The  recently frozen ground cracks and the first shoots appear. The ponds unthaw and running water is the background melody again.

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All in the right time. The waiting somehow makes this so much more exquisite.

Agua de Jamaica

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I’m not sure how I missed this drink. I was probably busy trying all the different flavoured margaritas. Mango, anyone? Tamarind? Passion fruit? Classic?

This was not my first visit to Mexico, but it was the first time being introduced to what has become my new favourite drink, agua de jamaica  (pronounced hah-My-kah).

It turns out, jamaica, or hibiscus, is an infusion that is served either hot or cold and is popular all around the world. It is made from the the calyces (sepals) of the roselle or Hibiscus sabdariffa flower.

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I bought bags of jamaica from the little tienda where I was staying for 12 pesos for a 100g bag. It’s available here in health food stores and speciality shops or can be purchased online.

I wasn’t quite expecting the beauty of jamaica when it was first served to me icy cold on a sweltering afternoon. The deep magenta/maroon colour was just so rich and appealing.

Not only is agua de jamaica beautiful, but it’s also thirst quenching and full of Vitamin C.  It’s slightly tart so is often  served with some sugar or honey added. This drink will certainly “up your iced tea” game in the summer, so I thought I’d include a recipe of sorts. This will make about 8 cups.

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Ingredients:

4 cups of water

1/4 to 1/2 cup dried jamaica flowers (hibiscus)

1/2 cup of sugar (or to taste)  *I used less because I rather like the tartness.

Another 3 or 4 cups of water

1 lime thinly sliced

Optional:  1/2 cinnamon stick, thinly sliced ginger, a few allspice berries.

Directions:

Add:  4 cups of water and 1/2 cup of sugar (or to taste) to a saucepan of water. If you are wanting to add some of the optional flavouring ingredients, now is the time to do so. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and bring the water to a boil. Once boiled take the pan off the heat and add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of jamaica flowers. Cover and leave to steep for fifteen to twenty minutes.

Strain the infusion into a pitcher or jug. You can leave this concentration in the fridge and add the additional water when ready to serve or you can do so now. The recommended amount of water to add to this concentrate is 3 to 4 cups depending on the strength you desire.

Serve: Pour into glasses over ice cubes. Add a slice of lime and your agua jamaica is ready to be enjoyed.

If an individual serving of  hot or cold jamaica is desired,  put a pinch of jamaica in  your teapot, add boiling water, and steep for about five minutes. Strain and add sweetener.

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Things That Go Bump In the Night

And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws. 

Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are)

Night noises can usually be explained when I’m at home in my own bed. That loud cracking that jolts me awake on the coldest of winter nights? The wood in the house getting a bit testy because of thermal contraction and expansion. The ruffling noises in the wall? Mice are in the insulation again. (I make a note to myself in my half awake state to buy a mouse trap or get another cat – which oddly seems like a good idea at two o’clock in the morning.) The distant rumbling sound? One of the few trains that ply the tracks in this mountain valley. Yes, all the night sounds are usually explainable and only a minor distraction.

Night noises here in Mexico take on a whole new level of urgency. On one of the first nights here as I was falling asleep, I heard a loud chirping/cackling sound coming from the bathroom, which just happens to be located about a foot and a half from where I sleep. My husband nonchalantly suggested that I get up to investigate. Was he kidding me? I keep  a flashlight beside me at night so that I don’t unwittingly step on a scorpion if I have to get up, but what good could that possibly do if I met this?

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Or this.

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Or this.

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Or worse…

I lay there for awhile contemplating my options and decided that I wasn’t going to sleep anyway, so I might as well take a peek. Picking up my flashlight, I tentatively moved the curtain aside and….saw nothing on the floor, or in the shower, or in the sink. I’m breathing by now and the beams from my flashlight probe the walls. That’s when I see this.

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Our resident gecko. Who knew a little-ish thing could make such loud, disturbing sounds?

Feeling calmer now, I decided to return to bed. I climbed in, turned off my flashlight and put it safely back under my pillow.

Let the wild rumpus start!

The Living Village

I grew up in a small town.  I remember sitting on the bottom step of the staircase and looking out the window on frigid winter nights. Seeing  the smoke curling out of our neighbours’ chimneys warmed me as much as our furnace rumbling away in the basement.  It reminded me that we were all connected in our need for warmth – and each other.

I haven’t lived in a town for the last thirty-five years and sometimes I miss it, which probably accounts for my returning to this Mexican village on vacation. Yelapa is a small town built on a steep hillside in Jalisco, Mexico. It reminds me of the genesis of all villages. It was reportedly first settled by four families who had come down from the village of Chacala high in the mountains. The town has grown since then but its growth is limited by the mountains and the sea. Most supplies still come in by small fishing boats. There is a very rough road leading to the ancestral village of Chacala, but it’s not always passable and even it doesn’t directly enter the village. There are no cars here.

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The village awakens slowly in the mornings. The sun doesn’t rise above the mountains until after seven. The first water taxi leaving for Boca is the only movement on the sheltered harbour but is soon joined by fishing boats leaving for the day. The few little grocery stores (tiendas) open after 9:00. The village awakens slowly but work and pleasure continue well into the evening hours when the sun isn’t as hot. It’s a different rhythm dictated by climate and geography and culture.

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Most people live and work in the village. They fish, or help on construction sites, or use their horses and burros to haul supplies. And nowadays, of course, there is the tourist industry which keeps many people busy.

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One of my biggest pleasures here is walking along the stone path to the center of the village in the evening. The villagers have gathered on their stoops now and have a “hola’ or “buenos noches” for everyone passing by. We begin to recognize each other as time goes on and the smiles become warmer and the greetings longer. For a short while, we are welcomed into this little living village on the side of a mountain in Mexico.

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The flip side to all this connection, of course, is that everyone knows everyone else’s business and there are stories floating around about this person or that one.  I remember it was just this storytelling, often tinged with some judgment, that had me less than enamoured with small town life when I was an adolescent.  It never discounts, however, that everyone has a place in the fabric of the town and the connections run deep and last forever.

It’s nice and I miss it.

What Kind of a Traveller Are You?

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A lone street light illuminates the walk home after dinner. (Yelapa, Mexico)

A confession: I have never gone on an all inclusive holiday, been part of a group travel package, or taken a cruise. It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy these experiences, it’s just that I haven’t been drawn to them.

I am not the kind of traveller who needs to be up at 6:00 in the morning to make an early start on seeing all the sights and tourist attractions. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. For me, most days start with a morning stroll to a local café or breakfast spot. I’ll see where the day takes me from there. Sometimes it’s a trip to a market (I always check out those) or a walk to a waterfall, or vineyard or….

I do check out a destination before I visit and may have a rough plan of some of the places that I might like to see, but there is nothing set in stone and I’m rarely disappointed if my trip is over and I haven’t managed to see or do the things on my list. That’s because most of the things I ended up doing were spontaneous, suggested by locals, or experiences I just happened upon that were so much more appealing than anything I read in a book or saw online.

There are always adventures to be had when travelling, especially if you find yourself off the beaten path. You might have to share your chair with something like this.

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Or guard your bananas against night time visitors.

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But, oh the stories you’ll have to tell!

What kind of traveller are you?

Grid

I’m a huge Instagram fan. I love photos – well composed ones,  evocative ones,  ones that are the holders of memories. I have been curious lately about the grid of photos that we see when we click on a profile in Instagram.  I’ve noticed that some of the people with the most followers have a very curated looking grid of pictures.

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Here is one example.
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And another.

Their photos seem to all have the same style, light quality, and spectrum of colours. I must say I was a bit impressed that anyone could maintain this consistency. My photos seem to be all over the place. I have warm whites and cool whites, pictures of food interspersed with photos of family, and a whole slew of nature pictures thrown into the mix. It’s a hodgepodge.

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The latest grid you’d see on my Insta feed.

Yes, there’s an old family photograph, a few seasonal pictures, some food, a picture of a shawl I knit, and my calligraphy  supplies for a course I’m taking.

I have to admit,  I thought about making my grid more cohesive, perhaps more appealing to those people who happen on my feed and might want to follow me. But in the end, it’s not a brand I’m trying to create, it’s a life I’m trying to live.

The Sap Is Rising

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The first harvest of the season is underway here in southern Québec. The success of this harvest is dependent on the perfect combination of below freezing nights and mild days. We’ve had a few of those perfect days, but in the last week or so the daytime temperatures didn’t go above freezing. The sap flow stops on those days and the busy maple syrup producers, who are often farmers as well, continue on cutting wood, birthing calves, plowing driveways…  I think you get the picture. They’re very busy people.

Drinking the first sap is built into our DNA – at least my DNA.  Here are my parents circa 1948 doing just that.  My mother is recently arrived from England in this picture and obviously hasn’t purchased her Canadian “going out in the woods”  clothes yet.

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We haven’t been to a “cabane à sucre”  this year to see the sugaring process in full swing,  but we did tap a lone tree not far from the house and stopped at it yesterday on our way back from a cross country ski to quench our thirst.

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Another nor’easter has blown in today. It is snowing heavily now and the fire is lit. We’re staying close to home to wait it out. The trees will be waiting it out too. It’s like that this time of year.