A good place to contract a nasty disease
Is gardening high-risk behavior where you live?
It certainly is in my part of the world. In Washington County, NY, it seems as if everybody outdoorsy gets Lyme disease. This includes all the hikers and canoers as well as gardeners, and it includes my outdoorsiest child.
So it was clearly just a matter of time for me. Last Saturday night, after a day in the vegetable garden, I pulled a tick off my knee and instantly became sick with a weird fever, chills, and body aches. In addition, everything looked strangely green and nothing tasted right. I was so sick, in fact, that I went to the doctor, who took one look at my red-ringed knee and prescribed doxycycline.
I love all God’s creatures–but ticks are clearly diabolical. If they’d been designed expressly for the purpose, they could not be more carefully engineered to drive a gardener crazy. The things I find particularly evil about them include…
1. They like mulch. I like mulch.The mice from whom they get the Lyme bacteria like mulch. Spreading mulch on the garden is the surest way to get bitten.
2. They are so efficient as to be practically unkillable. They only need to feed three times in their entire lifecycle.
3. They are such balletic stalkers, you’ll never notice their approach. They like to dangle at the top of tall grasses with their legs waving free and then, when they sense heat and C02, just to brush off onto you.
4. They make me question my beautiful meadows, since they like hanging out in the long herbaceous stuff. Carefully clipped lawn grass is too hot and dry a habitat for them.
5. They’re smart enough to make their way to places you won’t instantly find them–folds of skin, for example, at your knee or armpit.
6. They drug you for their own nefarious purposes. Tick saliva doesn’t just carry an assortment of diseases, it can also include neurotoxins and anti-coagulants, everything possible to keep you unaware and juicy until the parasite finishes feeding.
7. They are a reminder of climate change and environmental degradation even in paradise. Washington County, NY used to have truly brutal winters that cleaned out all kinds of pests. I can remember one when it got to minus thirty or below every night for weeks. My vet says that he never even saw a tick on a dog or cat until ten years ago. Now, the winters are balmy and the ticks are thriving.
Are there any ways to fight an enemy this clever? There are a few.
1. Give up gardening and take up on-line poker.
2. Spray your property.
3. Get Guinea fowl, which are ferocious tick eaters. Since these birds are only half-domesticated, however, and will fly off at the drop of a hat, you’ll only keep them if you babysit them.
4. Tuck your pants into socks or boots so the ticks can’t crawl up a bare leg.
Number four is the only defense I see myself adopting in the near future.