Taking walks with my grandfather helped shape my life. Those walks were more than 60 years ago, but I relive them every day.
His name was Cliff. He was in his 40s when I came into his life. His shoulders were wide, his arms strong, and his energy nearly boundless. When I was big enough, I helped him harness the mules that pulled his plows. He taught me how to hunt and how to make bows and arrows and about trees and about the things that live in them.
When we walked around his farm, he would stop now and then to look back. He would take me by the shoulders and make me look back at the way we had come. “Remember the trail,” he said, “because one of these days I will send you back alone. If you don’t remember the way you came, you will be lost. The woods and the fields don’t care.”
He meant that the world can be a dangerous place. The oaks and the pines and the briars do no more than just stand there when you are lost and running out of daylight. They stand there all night too, unmoved, and on into the next morning.
It’s hard to think of a tree as a threat. It just doesn’t care. It is also hard to think of your yard as a threat – it’s neat and tidy and there are paths through the pretty flowers and shrubs. It doesn’t care either. But the things that live in them, like ticks, are testament to the truth of Cliff’s warning. There are legions of them out there, hiding in oak trees, lurking on daisies, waiting to jump on you, eat their fill and leave you for dead.
Ticks are tiny. Some are a quarter of an inch wide, but a lot of them, like the deer tick, are just specks with legs and a mouth. And when one finds you, it burrows into your skin and drinks your blood. It can also inject bacteria into you. And if you aren’t careful when you remove it from your scalp or your ankle, the body tears away and the maw gets stuck. If this happens, the whole head stays in your skin and digs deeper – bad infections can follow.
One of the worst infections is Lyme disease. It is caused by bacteria the tick picks up when it bites a deer or a mouse. It usually starts with a rash, then a fever, a headache, and muscle or joint pain – if untreated the pain will get worse, neurological and mental problems follow, and sometimes death.
But the ticks don’t care and neither do the deer and the mice, who – because last winter was mild – are feeding more ticks this year than I can remember.
A child first experiences the tangible. On the walks with my grandfather, my first impressions and my most obvious memories are of the physical environment, the different grasses, the trees, the birds, the animals and the bugs. Now that I am older, I realize that the essence of our time together was more subtle. He was teaching me about life.
Tate is a Carrollton resident and nature enthusiast.