Wood Ticks

May 3, 2001

The Office "Blues"
Earlier today - while working in a basement office with no windows - I took note of the nice weather (based on internet reports only).  I thought that this would be the perfect evening for a hike on the farm.  It looked like the temperature would be pleasant, with maybe a hint of cold air.  Thus, not too hot and not too cold.  

And yes, it was a beautiful spring evening in North Dakota as I drove north of Bismarck to my home farm.  Upon arriving, I set out for my favorite pasture - located about two miles from the Missouri River.  My only fear about hiking in this pasture was that the ticks would be waiting in anticipation for me.  That's why I typically don't hike at this location in the spring.

The first thing I noticed when I shut the door on my vehicle was a deer running about one-quarter mile to the west.  Then I looked to the southwest, and four deer were quickly running up a coulee and away from me.  No time for a photograph, and besides, the deer were too far away.

I started out my walk at a brisk pace as I wanted to get to the west of a grove of poplar trees as the sun was setting.  The purpose of my hike this evening was to photograph some poplar trees that were sporting some bright new green leaves.  The contrast between those leaves and some drab oak trees with no leaves and the brown prairie was very evident.

My First Challenge
I knew that getting to the ideal location to take photographs required crossing a coulee.  I came to the edge of the coulee, and saw my first challenge of the night - water was running through the coulee as a result of all the springs to the east.  The bottom of the coulee was flat and wide, and so there was no ideal place to cross.

I surveyed the area, and decided that the best place to cross would be the bottom of a dried up beaver dam where silt had built up over a number of years.  I took a few steps and soon realized that this brown earth was not dry, but a soupy mess.  I decided that since I had already taken a few steps, that I might as well proceed.  I crossed a trickle of running water in the middle of the coulee, and proceeded to step into muck up to my ankles.  This muck had a horrible stench that I was soon carrying with me on my hiking shoes and the bottom of my pant legs.  I thought - no problem - if I walk through the tall grass and buckbrush, the muck will wear off of my hiking boots, and they'll be clean by the time I get back to my vehicle.

Surprise, Surprise!
I proceeded up a hill on the other side of the coulee - walking by some trees and brush.  When I walked past the last tree on the other side of the coulee, I looked down at my pants legs.  I almost jumped as I saw about 12 ticks.  I quickly changed my priorities (the photographs can wait) and took the time to either pick or brush off the ticks that were on the front and back of both of my pant legs.  In looking over my situation, I realized that I was in a large buckbrush patch, and so every 10 feet I stopped and picked or brushed off ticks.

My curiosity then brought me to another stop.  I knelt down for a close look at one buckbrush plant and noticed about five ticks on one stem.  I knew right then and there that I was in trouble, and that I had to get to a part of the pasture where the grass was short.  I walked as quickly as possible towards the short grass, all the while picking or brushing ticks off of my pant legs.  So what if the short grass doesn't clean the mud off of my hiking boots.  I would rather have dirty hiking boots than an army of ticks crawling up my pant legs.

Time for Photographs
I was soon at my chosen location to take some photographs.  However, a narrow band of clouds was shading the sunlight, and so I decided to walk further west to another location.  While there were no ticks in the short grass, I was still nervous and checked my pants legs about every 10 yards.

I reached a hilltop where I took a number of photographs of the sunset.  I also took note of a number of crocuses that had lost their petals in the past couple of days.

Now, it was time to walk down the hill, and across the coulee so that I could get back to my vehicle.  As I looked for a path, I saw that there was no way to get to the bottom of the coulee without walking through some buckbrush.  By the time I got to the bottom of the coulee, I removed another 5 ticks from my pant legs.

My next challenge was to get across the coulee - specifically, across six feet of shallow water without getting my hiking boots soaking wet.  I noticed some clumps of grass sticking out of the water and decided that the best way to cross the water would be to walk on those clumps.  They helped some, but my left shoe (and sock) still got wet.

Next, it was up the hill, and again, I searched for the route that had the least amount of buckbrush to walk through.  This time I only removed 3 ticks from my pant legs by the time I got to the top of the hill.  

I took my final photographs of the sunset.  Then I looked at the bottom of the coulee, and saw something white.  I soon realized that this "white stuff" was a mound of compacted snow and ice that hadn't yet melted.  Trees and a steep hill to the south had prevented the sun from directly shining on the snow and ice.

Can't Wait for That Shower
I then hiked at a brisk pace for one-half mile to the vehicle.  In the final stages of my hike, I knew that I wouldn't feel comfortable until I got home and showered and put on clean clothes.  Never before had I removed so many ticks off my pant legs from one hike (probably over 60 and just one tick makes me nervous).  My thoughts turned to the drive back to Bismarck, and I knew that I would be checking every itch to see if the culprit was a tick.

That's when I quickly made the decision that my next hike through the coulee would be on a hot day in July, when the ticks are as scarce as an 80 degree day in January.



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