Ticks, Lyme, and Long Walks


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.


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.

On Long Walks

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.

Brenda Ueland

It is a five kilometre walk down our country road to the place where the gravel meets the paved highway that connects our town and the towns north of here to Vermont.

My walk takes me down a less traveled dirt road and passes our field which used to grow three acres of organic vegetables but now is cut for bedding for the neighbour’s cows. It continues up the first slope with views of the stone manor house at the top of a long, winding driveway on the left.



The stream that runs behind our house crosses the road here and I often stop on the bridge to watch its progress to the larger river which it joins not too far from this spot. It is usually quite a mild mannered stream but it can rage during heavy, sustained rains or when the snow cover at its source on nearby Pinnacle Mountain is heavy and spring erupts overnight instead of blossoming slowly. There is a barn at this junction and the cows are often grazing in one of the fields near the road.
I often stop to talk to them or take a picture or just soak in their relaxed presence.


Cows are masters of mindfulness. The sun on their backs, the grass below, and the next mouthful of grass is their meditation.

The road from here hugs the Sutton River that has its source on the largest mountain in our area and joins the more majestic Missisquoi just across the border. It is along this stretch of the road that I can sometimes catch a glimpse of a family of mallards or once even an otter playing on the ice floes during the spring melt.

If I am going to be joined by any human company, it is at this point where I might meet a man from town out walking his dog. And so goes my walk most days.

A friend of mine who used to live close to here but has now chosen the city as her favourite place can’t really understand my fascination with walks in the country because there is no destination. That is precisely the pull for me.

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 these 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.

And sometimes on my walks nothing much seems to happen at all.

But when I am outside taking one step after another I am able to live for a moment the Rainer Maria Rilke poem.

I live my life in growing orbits
which move out over the things of the world

And the truth of these lines descends…

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,
or a great song.