Ticks, Lyme, and Long Walks

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Here in the country the woods are our backyards and tall grass abounds. We have a woodland path that connects our house to our neighbours,  a ten minute walk away. When the children were little we used this path many, many times a day. Summers are steamy here, so we wore shorts and t-shirts and had flip flops on our feet. Forward twenty years and nothing still brings quite as much pleasure as escaping the heat of the day in the canopy of the forest.

When I walk in the other direction to our rural mailbox, I often cut through our field on the way home, thinking little of the detour and often stopping to see what’s growing or living in the tall grasses.

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The days of carefreeness on these walks has changed now. It is sad to think that walking in the woods or taking a shortcut through the field brings hazards these days when it was done without a thought just a few short years ago. We have always had ticks in this area and I would frequently find them on our animals, but Lyme disease which was not identified until 1977 lingered to the south of us. Lyme was never an issue here until climate change meant winters have become milder and the bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) has been able to survive these warmer temperatures. It is now in our area just north of the Vermont border.

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What does this mean for us and our closeness to the natural world? Experts say we should dress head to toe in long clothing, tuck our pants into our socks and douse ourselves with Deet before venturing into the woods. This makes sense if the goal is to make sure that nary a tick lands on you. But what of short forays on steaming hot days when dressing in this way would just deter you from going at all? And that’s my fear. Not the ticks as much as the thought of losing a carefree lifestyle we treasure. We moved here so that we could play in the woods and fields.

My husband and I have both found ticks on our bodies in the last few years and so have our neighbours. My husband didn’t discover his until it had been on for a few days and he had developed the classic bull’s eye rash. This meant a visit to the doctor and a round of antibiotics. My tick I discovered while showering after working in the garden. It had only been there a short time and I removed it carefully with tweezers making sure to not squeeze its body. Since it had only been attached for a few hours, I only had to watch for any symptoms that might emerge in the next 3 to 30 days. I wish I could say that I am relaxed about having ticks in this area, but I’m not.

I think twice about spontaneously going into the woods these days or cutting through the field. I make sure when I am in the woods to wear long pants and a hat. I often shower when I get back and check myself very carefully, not ignoring strange places like between my toes and behind my ears. I probe my scalp and hair feeling for any raised bumps. It’s a drag. And it has changed our lives. But it is not stopping any of us from enjoying the woods. It is why we moved here. We are still roaming our properties, albeit more cautiously than a few short years ago.

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