A Strangely Barren Winter


On bended knee I perch amid the hemlock boughs stock still watching the pecking of a busy finch as it hunts for food.  His tiny silvered beak dips and thrusts, stirring the ash colored matted leaves of the forest floor.  Hopping, then darting, his eager work seems to be successful, as I spy the bird flit to a branch, working his beak on his toes, then raising his face skyward as he swallows.


Soon there are two more finches, their summer golden feathers burnished to a wintry taupe, a hint of olive and subtle gold on their flanks.  I hear their pretty voices, chirping as they dip and peck, clumps of patchy snow dimpling the dense woodland around us.  It is an odd winter this year, with the mildest temperatures and least amount of snowfall I have experienced in my 20 years up here in these Northern reaches.


Usually by now, in late January, we are wading thigh deep in snow, not a leaf in sight, and never a glimpse of the forest floor.  I’ve skied these trails over many seasons, cathedralled in regal splendor, as heavy snows coat the conifers in Bavarian-style beauty, a muffled softness easing the swishing of our cross-country skis.  


Today is different and rather disturbing.  Is it global warming?  Is it a freakishly warm winter?  Will the snows come late and pound well into April?  Folks in town comment daily in passing about this strangeness for us New Hamsphirites.  In fact, I’ve felt off kilter, my senses somewhat disoriented, as by now my body and limbic brain cycle through a certain type of “snow light” – a glaring sunshine reflecting off the extreme whiteness with the familiarity of woolen hats and scarves bundling my head.  Instead, my head is uncovered and I wear a moderate autumn jacket.  


A slight rustle ahead of me down the trail and I look to see Lucky nosing alongside a rotting tree stump.   The finches take wing and I rise to join my welsh corgi. I look down on my pant legs, instinctively searching for ticks.  This fact is perhaps the most disturbing item of our tepid winter – ticks are wintering over and not been abundantly killed off in our former -15 degrees-deep freezes.  We are all on “red alert”!  My hope is that the finches were eating ticks on their dead leaf forage.


I tell myself that I must “google” gold finches when back home and see if the eat ticks.


With Lyme disease exploding in pandemic proportions along both coasts of the USA, into the Ohio River Valley, and now even in Texas, Minnesota, and elsewhere, none of us can be blasé about the reality that we all run risks of being bitten by an infested tick.  Even now in the dead of winter, Lucky and I are potentially exposed.  When returning home I will brush him thoroughly and do my own full clothing strip-down and body scan.  I will never be casual again about my forays amid nature.


It is a shame really.  I left Long Island in 1991, purposely coming to a severely cold climate zone to get a away from ticks and the Lyme disease scare of the 1980s.  Lyme has worked its way fully into our Northern New England hill towns, up the Maine Coast, into Canada and is so deeply entrenched in New York State, Connecticut, Massachusetts and elsewhere that many people are living at high anxiety levels – some in frank Post Traumatic Stress Disorder status!  


  “Out of the Woods” has brought me into contact with so many seriously ill people!  I am astounded at just how seriously ill so many people are.  There are not enough educated and seasoned health care practitioners to deal with the swathe of suffering.  We need an uprising, a riot to demand a change!  Please, speak up – contact your state department of health – tell them your story, start petitions, get your senator’s office on the phone, call the Center for Disease Control, badger your doctors, email Lyme Disease.org and donate even $15.  A grass roots rebellion is in order.


In the meanwhile, please, take precautions. Wear tick repellent when outdoors, wear long sleeves.  Be alert.


Lucky and I climbed to the top of the rise, up near the dinosaur-size granite boulders, perched in a precarious tilt all these millennia on a gentle ridgeline.  We survey the muted forest.  Eager squirrels scampers high in the trees, a musky leaf decay scents the air, instead of the typical clean, fresh air of winter.  Still, it is pretty in a stark way.  


In all honesty, I would be comforted by a 24” snowstorm and a suffocation and freezing of the all too dangerous ticks.  I hate to think what spring brings.