Ticks, Lyme, and Changing Habits


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.


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.


Have a fun and safe summer everyone.

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.