Summer is here and, if you’re at all like me, you love to be outside at least some of the time! The forest calls your name. While inside sitting at your computer or reading, you feel the pull. You simply must go out to recharge, honor nature, and explore.
But before you just run into the woods wearing your favorite hippy dress, barefoot and ready to hug trees*, read on to consider a more common-sense approach to communing with the Nature Spirits during summer months.
I live in the North Eastern part of the United States and ticks are a major concern. Deer ticks in particular as they are known carriers of Lyme disease, a nasty condition that can cause pain and irritation of joints and organs. According to the NY State Department of health:
The early stage of Lyme disease is usually marked by one or more of the following symptoms: chills and fever, headache, fatigue, stiff neck, muscle and/or joint pain, and swollen glands. If Lyme disease is unrecognized or untreated in the early stage, more severe symptoms may occur. As the disease progresses, severe fatigue, a stiff aching neck, and tingling or numbness in the arms and legs, or facial paralysis can occur. The most severe symptoms of Lyme disease may not appear until weeks, months or years after the tick bite. These can include severe headaches, painful arthritis, swelling of the joints, and heart and central nervous system problems.
If you have pets with outdoor access, you may have seen a tick before. They’re interesting but incredibly creepy creatures in that they latch on and swell as they drink blood. I’ve found ticks on me a few times in my life but, thankfully, always before they bite. They are so, so tiny and can be hard to detect.
Fear not! There are things you can do to help lower your chances of getting Lyme disease. The obvious is to wear insect repellent. I recommend looking into what your local herbalists or health food stores carry. Many major brands of insect repellent contain nasty chemicals. The next thing you can do is dress in lightly colored materials. This will allow you to see the ticks easier. (Wearing light colored clothing can often be beneficial in the forest as you want potential hunters to see you so as to not make any mistakes!) The next tip that you should definitely follow may make you grind your teeth. It’s summer and therefore HOT. All the same, when you go into a heavily wooded area, particularly one where you may be passing through tall vegetation, I highly recommend wearing boots, socks, long pants, and long sleeves. You will sweat a little more, but you can rest easier knowing that the ticks (and the mosquitos) won’t be able to bite you as easily. You don’t have to worry quite as much on prepared trails as rangers and volunteers work hard to keep them cleared, but if there is any chance that you will walk through grass, consider your outfit. If you are on a trail or climbing a mountain, wear your shorts and tee but don’t let yourself be tempted into exploring beyond. Most of the forest I haunt is very walkable but the hedge is dense and I don’t want to take a chance. If you’re worried about heat stroke, it’s probably too hot to be running around the forest anyway. Plan your walks for earlier or later in the day. Always remember to check your clothing after your walk. Some people recommend actually washing everything right away, just in case, to prevent any ticks from finding a home in your house. Also remember to check your body in case one found access through your pant leg. Ticks love to live in warm little folds so spread your legs and really check! (I know a man who found one in the crack of his buttocks. Eee…)
The risks of Lyme disease really struck home this year. I met a young lady who was wearing a cast on her arm but hadn’t broken anything that she knew of. The doctors weren’t sure why she was experiencing such pain. After doing more tests, it was discovered that she had contracted Lyme disease. Because it was discovered very late, she would likely need to be on medication all her life to control the stiffness and aches. Ouch.
Ticks are a reminder that the forest, and Nature in general, is not automatically a happy, loving, safe place to be. Nature can be those things, but she can also be obnoxious, dangerous, even deadly. Despite their diminutive size, ticks and the Lyme disease-causing bacteria are humbling critters to be sure. When you are worshiping in your groves, remember them as corporeal outsiders – spirits who are often at odds with our Gods or our own tribes. Though annoying to us, they are an essential part of the web of life and should be respected. Don’t be afraid of the forest because the threat of ticks is out there – just be smart. A little common sense goes a long way and will allow you to happily continue running around the trees in usual Druidic fashion!
* Don’t misunderstand. I have several dresses that could belong to a hippy, love to go barefoot, and am known for hugging trees from time to time…