I love the summer.
Sure, there are days when you can slice the humidity with a kitchen knife, and other when you feel like you reside in the bowels of a blast furnace, but for many of us, those are the times when we look for our favorite wooded trail for relief from the heat.
On the trails, we often encounter creatures that, for the most part, don't mind sharing their habitat with us, as long as we don't pose an immediate threat to them or their young.
Five of these creatures 'probably' won't hurt you. Now, this doesn't mean that if you approach mama black bear's cubs, or step on Mr. snake that you won't experience the full fury of nature's wrath, so I assume that you understand that common sense should always rule.
1. Deer-On the Monday after Thanksgiving, over one million hunters migrate to the woods of my home state of Pennsylvania for the first day of whitetail deer season. I am one of them. There's a good reason. Pennsylvania is the home to one of the largest whitetail deer populations in the world. These majestic creatures are silent and stealth. Squirrels make more noise than deer. Countless times, on training runs, I have been stared at by deer, wondering why a strange two-legged creature is doing what they do best.
2. Bear-We have black bears in Pennsylvania, and I've encountered only two during my 38-year running career. They, too, are curious creatures, and will not attack unless you threaten their cubs. If a bear should decide to attack, however, your chances for survival are not good. They can outrun, out swim us, and they can climb trees.
3. Snakes-Not my favorite creatures. I have often done my best hurdler impression over black snakes, who stretch out on our coal-laced local trails for an afternoon of summer sunning. Although my hurdling technique is pathetic, to say the least, it has, thanks to pulsing adrenaline, propelled me over many snakes thus far in my career. For the most part, snakes are part of the 'you don't bother me, I won't bother you' classification of woodland creatures.
4. Small Game-Rabbits, foxes, squirrels, groundhogs, chipmunks, and an occasional skunk. You're never going to get too close to most of these creatures, but if you're 'zoned,' or lost in thought, these guys can throw a scare into you.
5. Fowl-Geese, ducks, turkeys, and pheasants-They can cause quite a stir as you near their nesting area, and a Canadian goose once attacked a biker friend of mine, going right for his helmet, (perhaps he thought it was a giant egg) but they are of little threat, and are beautiful to see while on a run.
Now it's time for a quiz question.
What creature kills more human beings annually than any other on earth?
No, it's not a shark, lion, or grizzly bear.
The answer is...
The mosquito, the carrier of malaria.
Most of us do not have to worry about malaria-carrying mosquito, but we should concern ourselves with a tiny killer that lurks in our wooded areas.
The deer tick, a small blood-sucking arachnid, is prevalent in many wooded areas of the country, especially in the northeast.
According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation:
"The deer (or black-legged) tick in the East and the related western black-legged tick are the only known transmitters of Lyme disease in the United States. Both are hard-bodied ticks with a two-year life cycle. Like all species of ticks, deer ticks and their relatives require a blood meal to progress to each successive stage in their life cycles."
It goes on to add:
"Lyme disease (LD) is an infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a type of bacterium called a spirochete (pronounced spy-ro-keet) that is carried by deer ticks. An infected tick can transmit the spirochete to the humans and animals it bites. Untreated, the bacterium travels through the bloodstream, establishes itself in various body tissues, and can cause a number of symptoms, some of which are severe.
LD manifests itself as a multisystem inflammatory disease that affects the skin in its early, localized stage, and spreads to the joints, nervous system and, to a lesser extent, other organ systems in its later,
disseminated stages. If diagnosed and treated early with antibiotics, LD is almost always readily cured. Generally, LD in its later stages can also be treated effectively, but because the rate of disease progression and individual response to treatment varies from one patient to the next, some patients may have symptoms that linger for months or even years following treatment. In rare instances, LD causes permanent damage.
Deer ticks cannot jump or fly, and do not drop from above onto a passing animal. Potential hosts (which include all wild birds and mammals, domestic animals, and humans) acquire ticks only by direct contact with them. Once a tick latches onto human skin it generally climbs upward until it reaches a protected or creased area, often the back of the knee, groin, navel, armpit, ears, or nape of the neck. It then begins the process of inserting its mouthparts into the skin until it reaches the blood supply."
So, simply, be cautious!
Although I apply flea and tick treatments to my pets monthly, their forays into the woods often produce unwanted visitors in the form of deer ticks.
After a run in the woods, check yourself from head to toe, and remove any ticks immediately, with a pair of tweezers.
When you visit the doctor for your annual checkup, ask to add Lyme Disease to the list of things checked in your blood work.
Stay aware and cautious of creatures, big and small, but remember, the tiny ones can be the most dangerous.