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Margaret Hartley's Greenpoint
by Margaret Hartley


A Daily Gazette community blog
Ideas on greener living

Not too scared to go outside

A friend mentioned to another that she had gone out into the woods picking flowers.

“In the woods?” my friend’s friend asked. “Aren’t you afraid of ticks?”

Sure, my friend is concerned about ticks. But she’s even more concerned about what would happen to everyone if they were all afraid to go outside.

“Geez,” my friend said. “I’m going to spend all spring and summer inside? I’ll wear long pants in the woods. I can check for ticks every night.”

There are many hazards to stepping out of your house and into the wilderness. You might get bitten by a tick, a mosquito or a black fly. You could get stung by a bee or a wasp, or bitten by a snake. You could get attacked by a rabid fox, or get a sunburn, or skin your knee tripping over a log. You could get poison ivy, or be scraped by a pricker bush.

Life is dangerous. I cut my finger on a paring knife washing dishes last week and seriously considered retiring from dish-washing duties forever. I relented after I was handed a Band-Aid.

But that wasn’t the only trouble: I bruised my leg on the wheelbarrow cleaning out the chicken coop (yes, I overloaded the wheelbarrow!) and my husband got a blister walking around the lake with me. My son decided to ride his scooter to school with some buddies and, while no one got injured, they had to promise to be extra cautious and to watch out for each other. Later in the day, he ran the mile to a friend’s house and was chased by the neighbor’s dog.

I don’t want my son to get hurt, or to be threatened by a dog. But I’d rather have him running, biking, riding his scooter and generally enjoying the outdoors and his own powers than sitting inside staring at a computer. I’d rather have him climbing trees, even though I know he could fall out of one. I fell out of lots of trees when I was a kid — once even a tree covered with poison ivy.

We could all stay inside and be safe. Or we can enjoy the world we live in, taking some precautions to prevent troubles.

Simple precautions include learning which snakes to avoid and which ones not to worry about. Around here there aren’t a lot of poisonous snakes, but if you’re hiking around Lake George, you might see a rattler. Be aware, be cautious and don’t step on it.

Know what poison ivy looks like and avoid it. And if you accidentally touch the leaves, wash the affected area with dish detergent as quickly as possible to get rid of the oil that causes the rash. And if you do get a rash, well, try not to scratch too much.

If you’re going on a long hike, you might want to take more precautions: enough water, sturdy shoes, a first aid kit.

Ticks are a growing problem. Lyme disease, which is carried by the tiny deer tick, wasn’t even present in our area a dozen years ago. Now that we’re not getting long stretches of subzero winter temps, the ticks seem to be overwintering and Lyme is a real risk, even into the Adirondacks.

The bigger dog ticks are also far more prevalent than they used to be, likely for the same reason. My dog had two ticks before May this year. Thankfully, none of the human members of the family have had any yet, but since we’re not going to stop hiking or spending time in the woods, yard and garden, we’re sure to pick up a few over the course of the summer.

So what do we do? We check, carefully, every night. Bath time becomes tick-check time. We have a tick-pulling implement — a curved piece of plastic with a slot for grabbing the tick, which can then be twisted out. You can find them in pet stores and feed stores. Last year I bought one for the school nurse; this year I’ll get an extra to put in my hiking bag.

Standard tick-avoiding recommendations include using insect repellent and wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outside. My Floridan husband can do that, because he thinks 90 is a nice, comfortable temperature. I think 82 is too warm, so there’s no way I’m wearing jeans all summer long. That means extra tick checks for me.

I also tend to avoid chemical bug repellents, because I rarely trust what is in them. I understand DEET is effective and, if used correctly, doesn’t cause long-term harm. Even the Environmental Working Group, which publishes alarming research on the dangers of pesticides and chemical additives in products and food, calls DEET-based pesticides among the best options for repelling ticks. But the recommendation comes with a warning about rashes, dizziness, headaches and potential neurological damage, so I remain cautious.

I like a eucalyptus oil-based repellent, but my son says it stinks. Choose your poison.

Use sunscreen to avoid sunburn, use gardening gloves to avoid ripping up your hands if you’re pruning rose bushes.

Use your head. Be cautious.

But don’t be afraid. If you hide inside to avoid bats, you’ll miss the fireflies and the shooting stars.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

Have a question or a topic you’d like addressed on Greenpoint? Contact or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter.

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