Several years ago in late winter we went to Florida to visit friends.
It was the first time we had seen their new home, which they built and which sat on a beautiful piece of property that bordered a creek. They had diligently cleared out trees and overgrown brush and landscaped the site, which afforded them a beautiful view of the property from their glassed-in dining room. Next to the creek was a large tree that looked like it could have been up here in Maine in anyone’s backyard.
“Do you ever go out there and lie under that tree?” I asked my friends absentmindedly.
Their responses were immediate and firm.
Not only do alligators lurk in the water and occasionally visit the shore there, but lying on the ground is out of the question, as you’d be attacked by fire ants, they said.
They proceeded to tell me a story about a Florida man who was swarmed by fire ants and eventually died.
While I was thrilled to be out of the frigid northeast and in the Florida sunshine for a week, I remember feeling fortunate to be a Mainer.
What kind of life is it if you can’t lie down in the cool grass without being eaten alive by bugs, attacked by alligators or bitten by poisonous snakes?
Growing up in Skowhegan, we had acres of farmland to roam, woods to explore, and brooks and streams in which to take a dip.
We thought nothing of lying beside a stream and luxuriating in the sound of water rippling over rocks, sending us into a dreamlike state.
We loved to romp through the woods, build shelters with fir and pine boughs and pretend they were our houses, forage for chokecherries, tea berry leaves and pine gum which we ate, never worrying we might get sick.
I especially loved to lie in the tall grass out in the field on a sunny day, gaze up at the clouds and daydream, or bury my nose in the grass and watch the ants and other bugs crawl around in their giant jungle.
If ever I was sad, I always had a place to escape to that was comforting — the woods or tall grass. No one could bother me there.
I never imagined back in those carefree summer days that one day I would fear lying in the grass or walking in the woods of my beloved state of Maine.
The danger of tick-borne Lyme disease has changed all that, and it is increasing.
While visiting Nantucket recently, I asked a resident if he could tell me how many people on the island have Lyme disease. He said the better question to ask is, who doesn’t have it?
Whereas a few years ago we heard of someone here or there contracting the disease in Maine, we didn’t worry so much, or imagine it could happen to us.
But now, it is close to home. Friends, relatives and acquaintances are getting Lyme disease. If it is not detected early, it can wreak havoc with people’s lives.
We are warned to be cautious when going outside — to wear light-colored clothing, long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into stockings — and use anti-tick spray. When we come inside, we should check our clothing and our bodies and if we find ticks, remove them carefully.
It’s a whole new world — very unlike the safe, insulated arena of our childhood where the only thing we feared was wandering into a patch of poison ivy.
I look longingly at those woods now and wish things were different.
How I’d love to retreat to that field of grass, when the world is whirring too fast and I crave the solace that only nature can provide.
And there’s something about the luxury of lying under a tree, worry-free, gazing upward, and allowing the stirring of summer leaves to lull you to sleep.
In Maine, that’s what we do.
It’s sad to lose that security.
And tough adapting to this strange new world.
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.