Monday, June 4, 2012

Too Close to Nature

This past weekend Annie and I went camping with the Unitarians.

Because this is not a blog about humans, I won’t explain further, nor will I go into detail about our experiences—I’ll just say that overall we had a very nice time. And, really, that’s saying something, given that I take as my own motto the statement emblazoned on a magnet that Annie gave me: “I love not camping.”

Let me be clear: I have a great fondness for nature, and I think it’s both foolish and dangerous for humans to pretend that they’re unconnected to the rest of the natural world. This does not mean, however, that we have to abandon the habitations and facilities to which we’ve become habituated and invade the wilderness, which already has plenty of well-adapted species living in it and doesn’t need us to join them.

Luckily for me, this was not true camping: only those who chose to do such a thing slept in tents, while the rest of us were provided with cabins and even a communal washroom (with hot running water, no less). The only thing that truly reminded me of our precarious position as soft creatures pitted against the inimical wilds was the warning we received in our information packet, asking us to make sure we took plenty of bug repellent and checked for ticks, since people in past years had gotten Lyme disease. (I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite as paranoid about my encounters with greenery as I did this weekend.)

I had plenty of lovely nature sightings, though; the camp is on the Chesapeake Bay, and so I spent a lot of time hanging around by the water and watching birds soaring overhead. There were a number of vultures gyring around the camp (making me wonder just what they knew that I didn’t), and it was a pleasure to sit on a dock and observe them gliding effortlessly overhead.

As I was sitting by the Bay, I heard a strange call; a high-pitched twittering, plaintive as a gull’s cry but more clipped and frenetic. To my surprise, it was a bald eagle. (No majestic cry for them! And actually, their almost hesitant-sounding chirpings make them much more appealing than a harsh call would.)

I don’t see bald eagles very often, so this was especially exciting, and I spent a lot of time attempting to take pictures of them—partly for the pleasure of taking them, partly to have proof of my sightings, since I always anticipate skeptics saying, “There were a lot of vultures around; the sun was probably in your eyes…”

A number of species were about, from blue herons to ospreys to cedar waxwings to chipping sparrows, but the bald eagles were definitely the highlight of the trip, bird-wise.

The low point of the trip, and the reason for this post’s title, came on our drive home. I had just made the mistake of writing a friend (via email on my phone) that we were looking forward to seeing her and were “probably tick-free.”

Now, I was raised secular, and I find theological questions less than compelling. The existence of an overarching divine spirit or presence is something about which I have no opinion.

I am, however, firmly convinced—from much unfortunate personal experience—that lurking in the ether are myriad malevolent sprites just waiting for you to make an overconfident or self-satisfied statement so that they can punish you for your hubris. Announce, “I never get colds in the springtime,” and you’re almost certain to be hacking and sneezing through April. Announce that you’re tick-free, and…

Well, it’s just as well that I put in that “probably.”

I was glancing idly at the fields we were passing on our drive, only to have my eyes struck by a vision much closer and infinitely more horrible. There, on the inside of the window, was an eight-legged creature with a shape I had come to dread.

“Annie!” I said with a sort of strangled urgency. “There’s a tick on the window. What should I do?”

“Kill it!” she advised sensibly.

This is more easily said than done, even if you are fueled by terror and wielding a Kleenex. I watched in horror as the tiny creature continued struggling irritably even as I attempted to crush the life out of it against the window pane. Finally I gave up, scrunched the still-wiggling thing up inside the Kleenex, and threw the whole thing out the window, thus compounding cowardice with irresponsibility and littering. It was definitely not my finest hour, and I felt crawly all the way home.

And that is why I say to you: if you are thinking of spending a contemplative weekend amongst beautiful woods and around congenial people, reconsider.

[I jest, of course; if you live somewhere like DC, you can contract Lyme disease without going anywhere--so why not have fun while flirting with debilitating illness?]

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}


biobabbler said...

Another gem is unearthed: "fueled by terror and wielding a Kleenex." *sigh* =) AWESOME.

I have to say, STAUNCH anti-litterer that I am (I remember 3 occasions of littering: in 2, I was under 18, and the last involved a violently sudden case of the flu, so the thing I left behind was NOT suitable for the inside of anything, and we were hurrying down a highway in a small pickup), the FIRST thing I pictured when you said tick and Kleenex was a wadded up piece of Kleenex flying out the window.

It's probably biodegradable, and you were at some risk, so you probably could be forgiven. =) It's hard to think of containers to put a foe into when said foe is grappling near your shoulder.

Anca said...

Nature red in proboscis and crawl--doesn't scan as well, but I find it far more annoying and scary than redwings dive-bombing (although, truth be told, they never dive-bombed me).

Good Ol' Ant said...

I find your suspicion of nature to be entirely justified, and I admire your perspicacity in dealing with the tick, even if you think you were less than heroic in your efforts.

At least YOU would recognize a tick; due to my long years of avoiding nature, I wouldn't have any idea what they look like.

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