Tag Archives: summer

Summer of the Wee Beasties

In three weeks, I’ve been on two different antibiotics for two different infections. After avoiding antibiotics for years, believing my green smoothies and regular jogging protected me from almost everything, my summer embracing the outdoors has led to two trips to the doctor’s office and an afternoon cracking jokes in the emergency room. It was a wet June followed by a hot July in the Northeastern United States. Nature got prolific. And then nature found me.

The first infection was a urinary tract infection that I *know* occurred after I went swimming in Saranac Lake. Other people were swimming in Saranac Lake during that super-hot, global-climate-change inferno week in mid-July when temperatures reached the upper 90s. I eased into the water and one of my first thoughts was “I wonder if I’ll get a urinary tract infection” because the lake felt, well, um, alive. Very alive. Mike went swimming with me and immediately remarked on the thriving biodiversity that invisibly circled us like hungry sharks. By then I was neck-deep in water trying to cool off, so I decided not to be a diva about things and paddle about. Two days later symptoms started. A few days after that, I was on Macrobid. Can I *prove* E. Coli in Saranac Lake found my private parts? No, but I’ve swam in many lakes (including Lake George also in the Adirondacks) and didn’t towel off afterward with an infection. This time, as I toweled off, I just knew I had brought something back with me.

Fast forward two weeks, and we’re back up in the Adirondacks yurting at Falls Brook Yurts, which is just lovely and not for sedentary folks because it’s a two-thirds mile hike uphill just to access the yurt. Your only water source is a nearby brook and whatever bottled water you bring with you. Along the hike to the yurt is a giant Adirondacks style chair made of old skis.

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(Commuting Adirondacks style)

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(A church converted into a canoe and ski shop; very Adirondacks)

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I can’t say we truly camped there because we didn’t prepare any meals there or even build a fire. It poured both nights we slept at the yurt, and the ground was soaked even upon our arrival. The word that kept going through my mind as I looked at all the different fungi sprouting from the ground was “fecundity.” Forests are dark, damp and fertile. Like lakes. Perfect for more wee beasties. Considering my recent urinary tract infection, I “showered” outdoors Saturday morning by standing naked on the yurt porch and pouring two liters of Poland Spring bottled water over my head with 50-degree air to cool me off…quickly. No brook water for me, even if it was boiled.

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My second infection was just bad luck. I know the rules of the forest and have written enough about Lyme disease to know you enter the forest as if going to a job interview, dress conservatively, fully-covered, and show no skin except face and hands. Instead of perfume wear bug spray. I need to give a shout out to Burts Bees here, for it was quite buggy during our hikes to and from the yurt, yet all that castor oil and peppermint shielded me.

Until Sunday morning.

What could be more vulnerable than lying in bed half-awake listening to the forest wake up? Mike was up making coffee, I rolled over in bed, I was wearing long-sleeved everything but my lower back was slightly exposed and I felt a pinch. And then a second pinch. I sat up and saw this large fly on the sheet. Inside the yurt, this critter was the only other living organism with a central nervous system besides me and my husband. It wasn’t buzzing around like a house fly but just lying on the sheet dazed. I swatted it away. If I had to take a guess at what had just happened, I was likely just bitten in bed by a deer fly. And it was barely morning.

We leave the Adirondacks Sunday, drive home, nothing happens Monday, and then yesterday around lunch, my back starts to feel hot, I’m breaking out in hives, and I’ve got two big red welts where I had felt the pinches. I try to diagnose myself via Google but nothing seems to match. I call the doctor’s office and it’s booked solid. My back is getting redder, my skin is getting hotter, and I’m starting to look blotchy and feel a little itchy. Off to the ER I go. The diagnosis? Allergic reaction to an insect bite (that’s a first for me) and cephalexin for cellulitis (say that five times, fast). Oh, and prednisone for swelling and inflammation and Benadryl for itching. Pop all those drugs at night and watch an episode of Game of Thrones. You’re numb and less spooked by all the gore and darkness.

While getting my vitals checked, I said to the ER nurse “I am done with nature!” and she responds “Oh, no, it’s the best thing for you. I’ve had chiggers and all kinds of things. Just get back out there.”

And I probably will, but not until next year. Over the years, I’ve camped on and off. I get pumped up to go native, head out into the wild, something happens, and I retreat to four-star hotels. In 1993, I camped in the Adirondacks and had no problems, so perhaps my false sense of security began then. Mike loves to tell the story of how in May 1999, we went camping in Orick, California. We had invested in all this REI equipment. We were living in Seattle and trying to embrace Pacific Northwest crunchy ways. All of our colleagues camped. Co-workers’ kids were little Lewises and Clarks. People hiked Mount Rainier the way I ran out for groceries. Everyone seemed to have fantastic outdoor survival skills except us. So we went super-rustic and pitched a tent along the California coast, not too far from brown bear territory.

Sand blew into our eyes and noses and I ended up locking myself in Mike’s 1987 Dodge Aries reading The New Yorker magazine while he tried to keep the mood alive by fussing with a cold dinner over a weak campfire. I hated every moment of that weekend. We drove back to Seattle, and that Monday, I sold our brand new REI tent to a co-worker.

Fast forward to October 2002. We’re camping on the opposite side of the United States now, in Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The leaves have turned and the colors are truly spectacular. I figured a fall camping trip would mean no summer storms or summer bugs. However, since I had sold our tent, we borrowed from a friend a giant tent that slept eight. It’s too spacious and we froze. As I shivered during the night, I saw a silhouette of two deer on the tent wall. They appeared at ease, nibbling grass. Those are the moments that make camping worth it. I dozed off. A few hours later the sun rose. We packed up and thawed out at a Friendly’s restaurant.

Fast forward to July 2003 and we’re camping at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland, another beach camping experience. Wild ponies roam there. And so do hordes of mosquitoes. Our tent blew down during a thunderstorm and we were eaten alive. Mosquitoes kamikazed into my coffee cup. We drove back to Washington, D.C. the following morning and shopped for calamine lotion.

After this past weekend of hauling and boiling water, of wondering what was lurking out in the forest (only to learn it was in my yurt bed waiting to bite me) I empathized with our ancestors’ struggles. Running water, electricity, Lysol wipes and quick access to antibiotics have made us (or me) soft. We still don’t own a tent. I’m not ready. I’m only on day two of cephalexin and am looking forward to next week when I can return to being probiotic instead of antibiotic. I don’t want to hike wearing biohazard suits, but I’m paranoid enough that I might. The outdoors brings out conflicted feelings for me when I write. I love it and hate it the way I love and hate New York City. Travel writing is often broken down into writing about destinations (this beach is so beautiful!), process (are airport full-body scanners safe?), or service (this hotel is rife with bed bugs!). Travel writing can lack nuance. Ma Nature makes travel writing more challenging. Outdoor destinations are beautiful and sometimes dangerous. The process of hiking, hauling, being prepared for beasties big and small isn’t easy, and is really only for the physically fit. And the service? There isn’t any. There’s no camping concierge to answer questions. At most, you might find a wooly, weird guy who can tell you if the bear tracks are fresh, somewhat recent, or nothing to worry about. Or the only service possible is a faint signal on your smartphone, if you’re lucky. I love the Adirondacks and the Great Outdoors, despite its beasties, which lurk everywhere in this world. But I need a reprieve, so while in California these next two weeks, you’ll find me indoors or at very manicured, pesticide-treated places. And that’s ok, too.

Downtown, Uptown and All Around

I spent a hot, sticky day in Manhattan yesterday covering a lot of ground, both above sea level and below. The adventures began with a 55 mph drive south on the Henry Hudson Highway in my 2002 beat up Honda Accord. During the ride in, I notice the Hudson River looks steamy. When you can’t quite tell what color the river water is, then you know you’re in for a rough, hot, gross afternoon.

10:52 am – I park the car at a garage near 5th Avenue and 29th Street and grab my papers for an 11 am meeting. The garage attendant comments that the new Honda Accord is out, and asks me if I want to sell my car. I say I’m not selling and make a mental note to check under the hood when I return to ensure the engine and supporting parts are right where I left them.

10:58 am – Waiting for the elevator in one of those classic turn-of-the-century buildings on Seventh Avenue. Love that old New York City is still a vibrant part of new New York City. I live in the ‘burbs where nothing is past three stories high, so it’s been ages since I rode an elevator. I am oddly excited for the ride. As I wait for the elevator, I grab a shot of the ceiling. My ceilings at home are cracked and need repair. If this was what I walked into every morning, I’d be bursting with motivation and giddy with creativity.

11:31 am – Meeting is over, back in the beautiful lobby with the beautiful ceiling, and I need to figure out the subway system to meet a colleague for lunch. It costs $2.50 for a single ride uptown, so the car gets to hang out downtown while I venture north for an afternoon bite. I’m near Herald Square (the Empire State Building serves as my North Star informing me which way to go) so I make my way to Penn Station and grab the C train to Times Square.

11:46 am – Penn Station. Suitcases on wheels criss cross the corridor. I dodge a baby stroller. Street musicians have taken the day off. Normally you hear music everywhere, but all I hear are announcements. The subway platform is hot. Everyone looks hot and miserable. I am feeling more appreciative for the green suburban life at the moment and am missing my town pool. I’m also wearing flip flops. I did this intentionally knowing the risks involved, but the fact is, I can move quickly in flip flops. I’m on high-alert for my feet touching fluids and solids that they shouldn’t; dog poo, other people’s spilled iced coffee, a scoop of ice cream falling off a kid’s cone. I am vulnerable. I remember in 1996 wearing open-toed shoes at the West 4th Street subway station. I was coming home from seeing “Rent” and a bum was peeing out in the open and, well, let’s just say despite my best efforts to sidestep him, I got some splash.

11:52 am – On the C train enjoying the air conditioning. Managed to grab a seat and as soon as the train lurches forward, a mariachi band arrives loudly singing what sounds like old love ballads from the Mother Land. Unfortunately, they appear to be performing before a rather jaded group. No one is offering a dollar bill or even a coin. I only have 20s on me, and I’m too sticky to feel that generous. The band moves on to the next car.

12:33 pm – I’m uptown at 77th Street and Lexington Avenue. It’s a quieter neighborhood than where I just came from. I don’t recognize anything nearby except a Starbucks. I wander to Third Avenue, find a nice looking restaurant called Atlantic Grill, text my colleague my location, and a few minutes later, we’re sitting down at a clean table, with a crisp, white, heavy linen tablecloth, and a guy with spiky hair is offering us passion fruit iced tea.

12:42 pm – It’s Restaurant Week in New York City! I’ve done everything from dives to Daniel, but I don’t think I’ve participated in Restaurant Week before. The guy with the spiky hair is eager to sell me on the prix fixe lunch menu, three courses for $24.07. This is normally what I would spend on dinner, not lunch, but it’s been a hot, sticky schlep, I’m in a nice restaurant and am feeling entitled. Sold. $24.07 for lunch it is! (Quick aside: had the sexiest cantaloupe gazpacho ever at Daniel. Dinner at Daniel cost more than the rent for my studio apartment, but Mike and I both felt the food lived up to the price.)

1:05 pm – Course one arrives. It’s a peach, watermelon, feta, greens and sunflower seed salad. It’s awesome and I wolf it down and eagerly await the main course, which are fish tacos. The mariachi band on the subway had put me in the mood for Mexican. I hadn’t enjoyed fish tacos since Isla Mujeres, Mexico. When my New York City tacos arrive, they’re gorgeously plated so I take a photo and then wolf those down, too.

Here I am eating fish tacos in Mexico in April 2011. These tacos did not cost $24.07, but were just as delicious.

2:11 pm – Oh my gosh, look at the time! I’m still a lady who lunches and my kid is going to be home from camp in two hours! I need to get downtown fast, grab the car, and then go drive back uptown and get across the Hudson River and back to New Jersey. We’re only talking about 10 miles here, from my car to my house, but if you live in the metropolitan New York area, you know getting from point A to B is always an odyssey. Sometimes the shorter distances take longer. I polish off lunch with pineapple sorbet, air-kiss my colleague goodbye, and hop the 6 train downtown.

2:34 pm – Waiting for my crosstown train at Grand Central Station. Sometimes going east or west across Manhattan is harder than going north or south. There is a family standing nearby looking at the tracks trying to spot a rat. They seem really excited about this. They are clearly tourists because they’re wearing T-shirts and shorts that look coordinated, white ankle socks and relatively clean sneakers, and fanny packs. The fanny packs really give them away, but overhearing their enthusiasm about spotting a real New York City subway rat that they’ve heard can rival the size of a raccoon really gives them away. I’m rooting for them. I hope they spot their fat rat. I look at the tracks; they’re surprisingly clean and there doesn’t appear to be anything for the rats to rummage through. The train arrives and the tourists board empty-handed. No rat shot on the iphone. When I sit down, I see a couple reading a DK Eyewitness New York City tour guide book, and I wonder if there’s anything in the book about New York City subway rats.

3:31 pm – Back at the garage. The same parking attendant is there and asks me three more times if I would ever consider selling my Honda. Do I really need to pop the hood and inspect, and even if some small part was missing, would I recognize what was gone? I tell him I’ll never change my mind, my car has been paid off since 2007, and I’ll be driving this metallic oragami of Japanese efficiency into the ground until my flip flops scrape pavement. But this is New York City and he doesn’t back off, so while he trails off with his question, I grab my keys, crank up the AC, and get into the vehicular scrum that is 29th Street. We’re all heading to the Lincoln Tunnel, unfortunately. It’s Friday afternoon on an insufferably humid day and everyone wants to be somewhere else. Some place greener, bluer, cooler.

4:37 pm – I’m stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel. Maybe stuck is the wrong word. Think optimistically. We inch along. It’s going to be a long ride home. I call my friend and ask if she can meet my kid after camp; I’m just not going to make it home in time for the camp bus. I’ll be lucky to make it back to New Jersey before the pool closes. I vow to not return to Manhattan until fall, when temperatures are below 80, when the leaves are red and gold, when the subways won’t feel like steam baths with strangers. That said, I made it out of New York City in flip flops, feet unscathed, and I can claim I enjoyed Restaurant Week.

6:45 pm – Epilogue. Just got home. Traffic stunk. Too tired for the town pool, and it closes soon anyway. Kid looks wilted from the heat, too. We eat ice cream for dinner and watch the Olympics.