- Fall -

Tick it Off

Rex's USA Diary

Leaf Fall Time, Late October

In contrast to the year-round green of a Kiwi Mountain Beech forest, American forests commonly have deciduous trees, meaning the trees shed their leaves seasonally - i.e., there is a 'leaf fall' time of year that we refer to as Autumn.

I found that the 'fall' process had three parts: First the tree leaves lose their green clorophyl so the underlying reds or yellows of the basic leaf colour show through, then the leaves fall off the trees, after which we all get out in our gardens and play with the leaves creating large heaps of them.

So here is how it all looked for me in 2001. First the tree colours changed...

Colour changes happening

... and my neighbours added to their colour changes ... My neighbours colours

... because late Fall is also Halloween time. Fall is also Halloween time

Now the artistry happens. People get out their marker pens and pocket knifes and get marking and whittling pumpkins! Pumkin bat in cave

Yes, they create pretty amazing results. Mummy pumkin

Halloween is very popular and almost everyone has a carved pumpkin sitting on their doorstop on Halloween evening, 31 October. The strange thing is, that the following day, by tradition, everyone breaks their wonderful pumpkins! Very curious.

So stage two of the process commences. The leaves fall off our trees and change from bright colours to dull brown ...

My leaves start to fall

... which is our signal to get out and pile them into heaps. If you are a Kiwi  you might even burrow in under the leaves for fun.

My leaves are raked

It is so great a feeling to finish ones front yard, bag all your leaves and plonk the bag on your sidewalk for the 'leaf man' to come and take away. What an industrious time the end of October is.

So, feeling very proud of myself and thinking of shouting myself a beer, I very tidily return my leaf rake to the garden shed out back.

Leaves out the back

The next day I did a quick check of my handiwork. Oh bother! Seems like this is not one of those 'rake them once, job done' sort of situations.

Ticks and Life

In 2001 I had enjoyed my first leaf raking exercise. Also, with many public forested parks in my area I had enjoyed scuffling through the leaves as I explored off-trail, finding remains of old houses from pre-history that had been long forgotten.

Well, my land-lady told me off when she asked what I had been doing and I had mentioned my leaf-stacking fun and my hikes. 'What!!! Don't play in the leaves, don't walk off the trails - its dangerous!"

Now that seemed like an over-reaction to me, but then she told me why she was so concerned for my safety. She said  " The woods are full of white-tail deer - you have seen them on the sides of the motorways." I nodded, for I had often seen deer when driving at dusk and knew I needed to slow and be a cautious driver to avoid hitting one.

She continued "The deer carry deer-ticks which jump on and off them as they brush past tree leaves. The ticks carry Lymes Disease!" Oh. That didn't sound good.

"If you get a tick on you, you have to remove it completely - you can't just flick it off as it buries its head under your skin. Wear long sleeved shirts and a hat in the bush! Check yourself for ticks regularly!"

Sigh. All the fun was draining away from my leaf-raking experience.

It got worse though. A few years later after my return to NZ, many months went by before we re-established e-mail contact again. "I am OK now" she wrote. "I got Lymes Disease from a tick and have been off work for months recovering".

I was shattered. But again the email trail went quiet, so I did a search on her name - and found her funeral details on an undertaker's website. The dreaded Lyme's Disease had finally taken her out. I left a message to her and the family on the website with words of remembrance.

I still ponder how this nasty thing could take its toll on a careful person and spare a less-aware traveler.

And yes, I still miss her Light. She was a beautiful, caring being who looked after me like a lost soul. She was always curious about Kiwis and would check my fridge to see what kind of food I ate. Very healthy apparently, though it seemed pretty basic to me.

Also, at her home she looked after multiple cats needing support and  invited me on some of her slightly odd 'good works' jaunts.

One trip was to the Shilo Pottery to check out her feral cat 'catch, inoculate, neuter and return' trap. Trapping kept the wild cat population down, neutering stopped the cat breeding cycle, and inoculating them (on vet 'freeby' days) kept them disease free. Returning them minimised other cats from moving into the trap area, or having to continually seek homes for unwanted cats.

Another event we shared was to join her on a drive down south of Washington DC to take part in what seemed like an 'underground railway' smuggling activity.

Our aim was to meet someone we didn't know in an obscure southern supermarket car park, collect a dog off them, then drive all the way back up north to deliver the dog to another person we didn't know at a Baltimore supermarket. That person would host the dog overnight, before moving it on further north the next day.

Apparently the southern states had an over-supply of large pet dogs, while in the north there were many small dogs but a lack of (and therefore a ready demand for) large dogs. Our 'courier' role saved many animals from being destroyed by helping ship unwanted (but vet-approved) dogs from Alabama and Georgia up to New York.

Thanks Carolyn for the caring you gave to all your furry friends. And to me.