“Sometimes it seems that it’s always winter–always been winter, will always be winter in the North Country.” The Truth and Legend of Lily Martindale

I saw a chipmunk a couple of days ago. Likely his/her stores got low in the cozy den, and he/she was out foraging under the bird feeder. A week or so ago the chickadees started calling. They do that in February when it’s really cold. Then the titmice chime in and things start to lighten up out here in the woods. Not just the three minutes added to the daylight count either. The heart inflates a bit.

My right knee, however, looked like one of those old, black and white Farmer Jones cartoons–like a pig with a garden hose in his mouth, getting larger and larger and defying gravity like a balloon. The doctor drained off 50 ccs (that’s about a cup) of yellowish fluid. Although all tests came back negative, he decided it looked like Lyme disease anyway. So a week later and two caps of doxycycline a day, the swelling is down considerably and the pain level has leveled off to previous arthritic zones, and I have joined the swelling (sorry) ranks of Friends-With-Lyme.

When the doctor saw the improvement yesterday, his comment was “Son of a bitch–it’s Lyme” and proceeded to go into a rant about how there is no funding in this litigious society, no movement forward on creating a vaccine to stem the swelling (sorry) tide of the illness. We talked about the frequency of Bell’s Palsy showing up that’s related to Lyme and all the weird stuff that can happen.

Years ago when I was working in Admissions at Skidmore College, I interviewed a young woman whose best friend’s mom was the first person ever diagnosed with the disease in Lyme, Connecticut in the mid-1970s. It took some years for someone to figure out that her symptoms resembled Rocky Mountain tick fever, and treat her with antibiotics. I asked how she was doing (this being in the 1990s) and the young woman replied “Fine.” However, “fine” is not exactly what I have heard from my cohort group of FWL. Beyond the aches and pains there can be serious brain fog, memory impairment, Bell’s palsy, fibromyalgia,and more. And sometimes, like malaria, there can be an echo effect. You’re better, and then after awhile you’re not better.

“The one thing that this long, cold winter will do,” Doc said, “is kill off these ticks.”

Now that’s something seriously worth considering to appreciate this long, tedious winter! It has been consistently very cold up here in the foothills of the Adirondacks, unlike recent winters. The depth of frozen, frosted soil must be pretty good by now. Unless the black-legged tick (otherwise known as deer tick) has been biding its time breeding and building super powers, we should have a relatively tick-free summer. It would be nice for the first time in five or six years, to go out in the garden without long sleeves, pants tucked into socks (so uncool) and a coating of Deep Woods Off that would drive small children away. Speaking of small (and not so small children), you should turn them on to:

“The Tick” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8JZSKTAJfA

So – back to the early signs of spring. A prose poem:


The 2-note whistle of the mating call is my father’s, not precisely the same. Pretty close. The
2-note phrase: “Yoo hoo,” echoed across crowded parking lots, airport waiting rooms, baggage claims or just inside the front door of the house. “Yoo hoo,” meaning I’m home, over here, look here, you’re going the wrong way, don’t wander, come back. It was our names, discretely piped, our direction reordered, our curious heads turned back to the fold. Hounds to master, cat to dish, grandchild to lunch.

“Chickadee” is the territorial standoff, the buzz of warning: “chickadee-dee-dee” meaning my place, not yours, my food, my nest, my mate, my tree, my sky. He knew his birds, my father. I’m amazed he did not mention the origin of his call. When I moved here to the woods, I first heard the call. Dead of winter they start, you know. February, minus ten degrees, sunny and suddenly one calls off in the trees. I imagined my father, dead since Christmas, alive again. Come my beloved, my wee one, my pets and babies, come home.

Mary Sanders Shartle, Three Poets, Notes from the Fire Tower

Go in peace to love and serve the world.