Recently my husband and I took our first trip out of town since before the pandemic started. As we prepared for the trip, one of the things we noticed about preparation is that it’s a little bit like muscle memory – not doing it for a long time means that it’s difficult the first time, but you know it’s going to get easier again with subsequent trips. We brought a few things we didn’t need, and left behind one or two we could have used. But all in all, we did well for that first trip in well over a year.
We did what all fine Minnesotans do at some point in their lives: went up north. We have a friend that moved to northwestern Minnesota about 5 years ago after his retirement, and his place is out in the middle of, well, almost nowhere. 40 acres of peace, quiet and ultimate tranquility – almost. We did have to put up with 4-wheelers going by from time to time, but other than that, it was wonderful. We just chilled out, watched hummingbirds fly in and out from the feeder, tried to identify mystery birds that flew in and out, and enjoyed a lovely fire in the firepit when the wind died off in the evening.
We also had time to explore his property a bit, which was an adventure. There used to be a working farm on the site, which is long gone now. None of the original buildings remain, and his house sits in a different spot from where the original buildings were. The only structure that is there that might have been used by the original farm site is a corral, which my husband and I decided we needed to explore. The corral is now completely overgrown, and as we made our way in past the loading ramp, which has side support boards only but nothing left to step on, and around to the side, where he got inside we were both startled when something scurried through the overgrowth and away from us. We never saw it very well but think it might have been a woodchuck.
Inside the corral we found 3 large plastic bins that appear to be for grease collection from restaurants. laying across them was a tall metal structure that might have been from a windmill, and we’re speculating it was there to keep the lids on the bins. About 6 feet from them was a galvanized steel watering trough that was upside down, and probably the only salvageable thing there. Turn it over and fill it with dirt, could make a cool planter!
As we finished up our walk in the woods, as all properly born and bred Minnesotans know you need to do a tick check, so we brushed off our clothes, then went inside and did a better check to make sure we hadn’t missed any. I even told our host I wasn’t worried, as I’ve been out in the woods a fair amount and haven’t had a tick since I was a kid. I really shouldn’t have said that, because of course bold statements like that will always get you in trouble. Fast forward to bedtime, and as I was about ready to hop in bed I happened to look down and spotted something brown below my knee that just didn’t want to come off. Yep, picked up a nasty little hitch hiker that somehow crawled up my pantleg and onto me. Fortunately my husband is great with a tweezers and was able to successfully pull him off me. I turned to let him check the rest of my legs, and danged if there wasn’t ANOTHER one on the back of my other leg behind the knee. I swear, I was so completely creeped out at that point, I scrubbed my scalp with my fingertips about 5 times before I got into bed, and I have no idea how I got to sleep. I woke up around 3 am, and was trying to go back to sleep when I had the strangest sensation of something moving on my collarbone. You guessed it…I had a third one. Fortunately that dude was still moving and I was able to pull him off REALLY fast. I only feel slightly bad about waking up husband to squash the thing dead in the middle of the night. I am pretty sure they weren’t deer ticks, just garden variety wood ticks, but honestly, who cares? They’re all nasty.
After we got back home, I happened to see a news story about how this year we have a bumper crop of wood ticks, due to all the rain and cool spring we had. Just lovely, although I did learn some interesting things about them that I hadn’t known. They tend to be on tall grasses and weeds in the shade – so if you’re hiking through the woods where there is lots of undergrowth, that’s where they will be. They hang out on the plants, waiting for some poor, unsuspecting fool to walk by, and then they jump on board. Their front legs have hooks on the ends, a little like velcro, so that they can grab on. If you are ‘lucky’ enough to have one on you, watch when you pull it off. You can see the little tiny hook feet kind of tug at your skin. Where you won’t find them is in an open field in the sun, because UV desiccates them. That’s right, dang things are like vampires…stick ’em in the sun and they fry! So my takeaway from our trip is to not make bold statements, and to avoid the vampires AND wood ticks take walks in the sun. Just remember your sunscreen.