Tick-free existence comes to an end on Cobble Hill

Tafoni are small honeycomb-like features often found in caves like this one. (Photo — Joe Hackett)

As warmer, spring-like weather patterns continue to be resisted by a combination of snow squalls, rain and cold weather, it’s important to recognize and be prepared for some of the hazards that outdoor travelers are likely to confront at this time of year.

Most outdoor travelers know how to stay warm, and how to deal with black flies, mosquitoes, no-see-ums and a host off other natural pests. But increasingly, the threat posed by disease-carrying ticks continues to threaten the carefree days of our youth, when the danger of walking barefoot was stubbing your toe or stepping on a piece of glass. My how times have changed!

Although I managed to remain tick free over the course of last year’s fishing and hunting seasons, I spent a fair bit of time on the bare ground while sitting on watch without encountering a single tick. Despite the usual precautions, my tick-free existence recently ran out after I discovered a tick that was embedded in the calf of my left leg.

Typically, I tuck my pant-legs into my socks and avoid sitting on grass, leaves or crashing through thick round cover. These simple cautions have allowed me to remain tick free for all my years in the woods.

Sure, I’ve had a few ticks on my pant legs and on my arms, but until recent days I had never suffered an actual tick bite. I wish I could say the same about the leeches, spiders, wasps, yellow jackets and the bumblebees I’ve had to deal with. I’ve come across my share of pests in the woods, both four-legged and two-legged. Skunks and punks, I’ve faced them all. I believe the skunks were more hospitable, and they usually smelled better.

Travelers who have never encountered bumblebees usually come across them while walking in tall, grassy areas where they nest underground. Typically, an unwitting traveler may feel a slight tickle as the bee walks up the inside

of their pant leg until the fabric begins to constrict just below the waist.

By then, the bee is usually quite agitated. I’ll leave the rest of the story to the reader’s imagination. Needless to say, the ensuing dance with bumblebees bumbling around the nether regions of your crotch is likely to be one of the most entertaining and embarrassing moments in a young man’s life.

In all instances — with more than a half dozen to date — the bumblebee nests I have encountered were disturbed while I was pushing a lawnmower, which provides a great excuse for not mowing the lawn.

“Not today honey, it’s just too damn dangerous. Look, the bumblebees are out. We’ll just have to harvest the lawn when the farmers hay their farms.”

It was a first for me last weekend when I discovered a tick embedded in my calf. I removed it by carefully twisting it and applying alcohol. It was still alive when I flushed it down the drain. I kept an eye on the wound and there was no obvious sign of infection. I swabbed the bite with an alcohol pad and kept an eye on it for a couple of days.

At this time of year, outdoor travelers, hikers, turkey hunters, anglers and others need to be aware of exposure to ticks while hiking, fishing, hunting, bird watching or just walking in the woods. These activities often entail sitting on the edges of fields and forests, where you can easily pick up a tick.

Gardeners and landscapers also spend time working along forest edges, mowing grass or cutting brush, where ticks are common.

A few simple precautions can help reduce the risk of tick bites. Before going out, apply insect repellent on your skin and treat your clothes with permethrin.

When possible, wear light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and tuck your pants into your socks to keep ticks from the skin. Make daily tick checks part of the routine. If you find a tick, remove it right away, and swab it with alcohol. Keep an eye on the site for infection.

Holey rock

The tick bite came about while I was hiking Cobble Hill with a group of friends. The small peak on the outskirts of Elizabethtown offers sweeping views of the Champlain Valley to the east and the High Peaks to the west.

However, it wasn’t the view we were seeking. I was joined on the climb by a group of local naturalists who were looking for a truly unique rock formation known as tafoni. It turns out, Cobble Hill is one of less than a half-dozen locations where tafoni can be found in the state.

According to Evelyn Greene, a naturalist from North Creek who describes the odd formations as nested honeycomb or holey boulders, tafoni can be found around the world at sites ranging from the Adirondack peaks to ocean cliffs and even in desert caverns.

While tafoni formations have also been found near Thirteenth Lake and Garnet Lake, it appears the Cobble Hill location — which is on private land — is one of the best sites. Cobble is also home to several active peregrine falcon nests.

Growing up in Elizabethtown, Cobble Hill served as our playground. In fact, we used the tafoni formations as a place to hang out, since the hollow cavity of the caves were large enough to provide us with shelter from rain and snow.

After speaking and traveling with Greene, a self-taught tafone expert and daughter of renowned Adirondack preservationist Paul Schaefer, I developed a keen interest in learning more about the mystery of tafone. In the process, I located a patch of tafone in a cave located less than a mile from my hone in Ray Brook.

Mrs. Greene, a renowned local naturalist, asks anyone who has found tafone in the region to contact her at 251-3772.


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