If you set foot in Vermont these days, within 5 minutes somebody’s going to warn you about the ticks.
According to everyone — my friends and neighbors, the local papers, the town website — 2012 is going to be the Year of the Tick. Tickageddon. Tickpocalypse.
But don’t panic or anything.
Here’s the story: Deer ticks, which notoriously can carry Lyme disease, have been steadily spreading northward in recent years. These ticks used to be rare in Vermont; one of my neighbors, who grew up here 50 years ago, says she never saw a tick as a child. (This weekend, she picked three off herself after working in her yard). But now the deer tick population is exploding — and with it, the incidence of Lyme disease in Vermont. In 2000, the Vermont Department of Health recorded just 40 cases of Lyme in the state; by 2011, that number was topping 500.
There are several possible explanations for the tick-festation. It seems that a bumper crop of acorns in 2010 caused an increase in the population of white-footed mice, which carry deer ticks. But this year the acorn crop didn’t do very well, the white-footed mice population declined, and a lot of hungry ticks are looking for somebody else to munch. Another theory is that the unseasonably warm winter of 2011-12 allowed the ticks more time to breed and find hosts. OR it could be due to an increase in the deer population as a result of the reforestation of Vermont’s agricultural land.
Whatever the reason, the Big News in Vermont is that the ticks are on the march, they’re hungry, and an estimated 20% of them carry Lyme disease.
All of which has certainly gotten my husband’s attention. You don’t read much about Erick here, mostly because he’s the most normal of the five of us, which makes for less entertaining stories. BUT, when it comes to the health and safety of his family, Erick becomes what some might call…”obsessive.” (Which is probably a good way to be). So, he’s been emailing me links to informational websites and videos, we’ve stocked up on Deep Woods OFF and Skin So Soft, we’ve purchased “The #1 Tick Remover in the World,” and every single night he does a thorough tick check on each of our girls. (They’ve taken to calling it “a tickle check.”)
By the way, these ticks that we’re checking for are about the size of a sesame seed, and can latch on to any part of the body.
We felt like the clock was…ticking. We live in the woods. I do yardwork in the same area where my neighbor was jumped by three ticks. The girls are outside much of the time now that the weather is warmer. We’ve even received a late night phone call after returning from a cookout, informing us that two other attendees found ticks on themselves.
In some ways, it was a relief: we could finally lose that fearful expectation of the inevitable. It’s like in horror films, where the scare itself is less frightening than the anticipation of the scare. At least when we finally found a tick, we knew that we could spot the things. Now, we just have to watch Fiona for flu-like symptoms over the next month. In the meantime, I keep telling myself what I told our girls when I sat them down for a “tick talk:” “We shouldn’t be scared, we just have to be smart.”
It’s a rough world out there, I tell you. I mean, just last month our governor was charged by a bear. Life in these woods is teaching us that nature is beautiful, and difficult. But then, to quote my ever-vigilant husband, “Feeling safe all the time probably isn’t good for your soul.”
By the way, we hope you’ll still come visit. 🙂