This summer, I contracted Lyme Disease. Mid-July, when I was feeling better than I ever have in my adult life, but for the achy joints and stiff neck, a big ole rash showed up on my back. I figured it was just a horsefly bite, but by the next day, it took on the tell-tale bulls-eye shape, and my symptoms went from mildly annoying and easy to pass-off as over-exertion from running and exercising to being really, fully and wholly awful. Before this, I was out in our field, our woods and our yard very often, looking for flowers and other things that I could throw into a dye pot. I have ridiculous amounts of wool to dye, and I made it my job to experiment with as much as I could.
I don’t know where I picked the tick up. I didn’t know I had the bite and only recall asking my husband to see if there was something on my back a few weeks prior. He didn’t see anything.
Since then, I’ve been gun-shy about field flower-picking and woods walking. I look at my back woods and wish I felt comfortable heading into that beautiful place, to look for fallen branches with bark I can use, or mushrooms I can harvest and experiment with. Just yesterday, after cleaning my shed and periodically picking up hickory nuts to dye with, I picked a minuscule tick off of my ear. It’s so small, I can’t tell if it’s engorged or not, but I think it is, which means I likely got it somewhere else and not from my yard.
Why share this whole story here? Well, because I’m aware of the possibility of fear getting between me and something I deeply long to do. I can tell you with all of my being that I don’t want to get Lyme Disease again, and I wouldn’t wish it on any other living thing. Ticks are this crazy, mind-boggling paranoia inducing creature. If I lived near leeches, I’d have the same issue with them. Remember that scene from Stand By Me? Oh no. I’d perish on the spot. Spontaneous combustion style.
Anyway, I want to forage, pick and search for beautiful things to use to dye beautiful wool and I’m realizing that a very important mandate is demanding to be respected. Know the Landscape in Which I Work. I learned how to think this way while training at the Assisi Institute under the tutelage of Michael Conforti, Ph.D. He lectured frequently about how, when working with people, with dreams, with story and with symbol, that one must understand and be acquainted with the qualities and specifics to the given place, person, animal, landscape, etc. Know the landscape. This applies to all things. To teaching, to business, to swimming… Take swimming: the rules that apply to swimming in a pool are inherently specific to swimming in pools and different than rules that apply to swimming in rivers. And oceans. There are different mandates that apply to these different settings and one must honor them in order to navigate the waters safely and with success. Swimming in an ocean demands having an understanding of riptides, the sea-life specific to that area, tides and weather. One need not know these same specifics in a pool, but one must know about depth of water before diving, as well as whether it is salt water or chlorinated (some people are allergic to chlorine). These are not exhaustive lists, but you get the idea.
The same is true for gathering flowers and plants. One must know where one is in the world, what animals rely upon the plants one is gathering, how much of a plant can be taken without threatening future growth and what plants might have irritants (ever pick stinging nettle? That’ll ruin a couple of hours in a day if you don’t handle it properly). And, of course, when walking in nature, one must know of any possible dangers. I don’t live out west, but if I did, and if I were walking in very remote areas, I’d want to know about bear, cougar and snakes. Here, in Vermont, I want to know how to identify signs of bobcat and coyote. I know they aren’t likely to harm me, but they could do some damage to my cat who follows me everywhere on our property, and frankly, I’m not interested in running into larger predators with my kids. And ticks. I have to understand ticks and how to prevent tick bites, even when I’m not doing the typical things that one thinks of as being “risky” in terms of ticky situations.
I’m seeing clearly how much I need to respect my environment, and understand it, to fully enjoy its beauty and offerings. Maybe a full and comprehensive understanding will help me gently nudge my fear into caution.