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Column: Ick, Ticks!



For the Valley News
Friday, April 28, 2017

 

In coastal communities, they live The Salt Life. Pickup trucks drive around with bumper stickers proclaiming their allegiance to the ocean. But in the Upper Valley we live The Tick Life. But it’s not one we’ve chosen. It’s a life that has chosen us.

It’s that time of year again. While most people get excited about the first warm days of spring, I’m less thrilled. Sure, warmer spring weather means shorts and soft-serve maple creemees. But it also means the onslaught of bugs. (Remember the old saying “Black flies are worst from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day?”) And while I welcome grasshoppers, centipedes and honeybees, I’m less enthused by some of their cousins. The scariest, of course, is the deer tick.

Spring in the Upper Valley is rife with ticks. This time of year, my backyard is covered in ticks. My dog is covered in ticks. My friends are covered in ticks. Even, my soft-serve ice cream cone with chocolate sprinkles has one black “sprinkle” that actually moves. (BLECH.)

I have no compassion. As far as I’m concerned, ticks are the most no-good, terrible, horrible, worst creatures on Earth. (They are also technically arachnids rather than insects, which make them doubly horrific, in my mind.) Lyme disease has affected friends and family and I’m desperate to keep these disgusting little bloodsuckers at bay. And Lyme is only one of many tick-borne diseases they carry. While I know that some organic oils promise to minimize them, we live in a place where they can’t seem to be completely controlled. (I’d love to fill my yard with guinea hens to feast on the bugs, but unfortunately, we’re not meant to be a fowl family.)

And so, I do my best to keep the ticks away. I wear high white socks and long khaki pants on walks with my dog. I keep my lawn as short as possible. I try to avoid grassy areas where deer roam. But no matter what, they creep in. (My poor Labrador had 15 ticks in her flanks last week. She can’t relieve herself outdoors without getting bitten.)

A few years ago, I actually had a dangerous tick bite with a lesion in the shape of the dreaded bulls-eye. The doctor prescribed antibiotics for Lyme disease early, and thankfully I recovered rapidly. This incident led to my obsession with checking myself … but also my compulsion for checking others. (Brad Paisley might think “I’d like to check you for ticks” is a romantic lyric, but if I’m looking at that dark mole on your neck for a second too long, it’s only because I’m making sure it doesn’t have legs.) My husband and I compulsively check each other’s scalps. We flick dirt off each other’s ankles to quadruple check that freckles are just freckles. And my infant son? Let’s just say that the poor baby can’t go anywhere without a full inspection.

 

Who would have guessed that the scariest thing in the woods of New England is 1/1,000,000th the size of a black bear? Well, it is, and it keeps me up at night. In the Upper Valley, thousands of us are battling these disease-spreading buggers and unfortunately every year the fight seems to get worse.

 

Someday, I hope the ticks will dwindle and we can head back into the woods without fear. (And perhaps we New Englanders can live the Tent Life rather than the Tick Life.) But for now, I think we’re all stuck with a fear that consumes us. Especially when I feel something crawling on my leg under the sheets ...

Becky Munsterer Sabky lives in Norwich.