The summer suckers
It wasn’t the best idea, but we did it anyway.
Staggering across the rocks, most of them half a foot under water and others coated in a film of slippery mud, I held onto Max’s shoulders as we made our way to the middle of the river. It was difficult to see any stars from the banks, between the canopy and the curling smoke from our campfire, so this seemed like our best option.
Our friends stayed behind, sitting on abandoned benches we moved to hug the edge of the fire, questioning our judgment. After laying on one of the larger rocks searching for constellations and admiring the cloudless night we cautiously picked our way back.
Somehow crossing the river well after nightfall seemed less threatening than the centipede that must have been on steroids, or the spider we took for a black widow and summarily executed.
Even when I fell on the same rock the next day — miraculously preventing the glass bottles I was holding from breaking under me and doing serious damage — it still seemed safer than the ticks.
More than a month passed between my first and second trips to this serene river spot, whose location will remain a secret to cut back on the chances we’ll have to share it. In that time the view transformed. Thick vegetation now blankets the embankment, increasing the chances that few people will find our nearby getaway and also increasing the chances we’ll come home with ticks.
At least seven came home with me after our Memorial Day excursion, and those were just from the short walk back to the car. I lost track of how many I pulled off the previous day while we were camping and periodically that morning, and it only made matters worse that I accidentally convinced everyone to take the wrong path through the woods on our way to the river, significantly prolonging our time parading through tick country.
The first time my friends showed me the prime swimming spot and nearby waterfall I was one of the few to walk away without any of the tiny arachnids embedded in my flesh. Yet nobody left this trip unscathed, and the buggers’ abundance is enough to discourage me from returning regularly this summer.
Still, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate place to spend my days off than floating in the slow-moving river, perched on rocks eating crackers with hummus where cell phones don’t get reception.
It’s not like I don’t know other swimming holes — be it a rope swing on a different river or a quarry packed with people — but all of them are impenetrable except by way of tall grass.
To some extent, I’ve resigned myself to relentless tick checks to the point of seeming paranoid and asking for help checking my scalp.
The first time I came in direct contact with a tick it was sucking at the back of my sister’s hairline and my parents were holding a match to it. Despite four years at sleepaway camp in rural Maine, I only have childhood memory of ticks coming after me. It was in 5th grade and involved someone noticing one crawling on my face before I flicked it off onto my dinner plate.
When most people were in middle and high school their nemesis was probably one of their classmates, especially a friend-turned-enemy or the school bully. Mine was poison ivy.
I’ve been lucky to avoid it for the past several years, but when I was younger I got poison ivy like it was my job. Twice I had to take antibiotics because my body reacted so strongly that my eyes were swollen shut, and I cringe recalling the yellow puss that stained my socks.
I was so careless even after getting poison ivy repeatedly that my mom wanted to pull it up along the wide trail I walked in high schoolto play ultimate Frisbee. The town turned her down because the woods were protected, much to my satisfaction because I was embarrassed at the prospect.
I grew more cautious of poison ivy over the years, and expect the same will happen with ticks. We joked about bringing machetes to the river next time to blaze a safe path.
Even though we won’t follow through, neither poison ivy nor ticks can prevent summer. It will take a zombie apocalypse to keep me indoors — especially while my air conditioning is broken — and even then I would likely opt to brush up on my hunting skills.