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Oddchester: Sage advice about ticks and ferns

Right now, daughter Hadley, 14, is portaging through the Boundary Waters with seven other teenage girls and one guide, the guide being someone who is apparently an avid outdoorsperson and survivalist.

An outdoorsperson in the sense that they will be outdoors. And survivalist in the sense that they will have to survive eight teenage girls for one week.

Wife Lindy and I are monitoring the BWCA's weather forecasts and guessing where Hadley is and what she's doing based on the trip itinerary.

Hadley is not a camper. I mean, we camp, but not in the "portaging in the Boundary Waters" sense. During last year's annual camping trip, we went with one other family, and between us we drove three vehicles, pitched four tents, inflated five air mattresses and packed six suitcases and/or coolers.

All this for three nights at Lazy D, a private campground that offers a pool and rentable pedal carts and is less than 45 minutes from our house.


Hadley, naturally, was more than a little concerned about her first foray into the wilderness, especially when she realized that there would be no restrooms, only holes dug in the ground. Hadley avoids port-a-potties. She doesn't even like to use our downstairs bathroom.

So we bought her a collapsible fishing pole and taught her to cast. We found her a big floppy hat with a mosquito net that goes over her head. We helped her pack by removing the cardboard centers of her toilet paper rolls to save space in her backpack.

Then, in order to allay her fears and comfort her, I did what all good fathers do in a situation like that — I started telling her the most horrific story I could think of about a time in which I was in a remotely similar situation.

It was the story about when I spent two nights in the woods of northern Wisconsin WITH NOTHING BUT THE CLOTHES I WAS WEARING.

The experience was for a magazine story on Survival School, but still. I had to build my own shelter. I had to survive two rainy nights in which the temps dropped into the 30s. I had to eat fiddlehead ferns.

Hadley has heard the story before. It's in my regular story rotation, along with the time the giant dinosaur head fell on my truck ("Luckily it was a T-Rex head, because if it had been a triceratops there's a good chance the horns would have pierced through the roof and killed me") and the time I went vegan for a week ("I couldn't even eat Gummi Bears because they contain gelatin, which is an animal byproduct. Also, because they're shaped like bears.").

My Survival School story is one that, in conversations with strangers, I will start telling based on the flimsiest of opportunities.

"Hello, stranger sitting at the table next to us at a restaurant. Your plate garnish looks like a fiddlehead fern, which is what I ate when I spent two nights in the woods of northern Wisconsin WITH NOTHING BUT THE CLOTHES I WAS WEARING."


I start off the story to Hadley with good intentions — to assuage her concerns. But, not too long into my speech, I realize I am doing whatever the opposite of assuage is.

"You may want to tuck your pants into your socks when you go to sleep," I tell her helpfully. "This would be due to the large number of ticks that inhabit the Boundary Waters. I forgot to do this during my first night of Survival School and then I woke up in the middle of the night and wondered whether I should tuck my pants into my socks now. But then I figured 'Hey, if the ticks have already crawled into my pants, and I tuck my pantlegs in now, then the ticks already inside my pants wouldn't be able to get back out without crawling all the way up to my waist area."

Lindy, as any good wife would, finally interrupted me. "That's enough about ticks," she said. "There's no need to be worried about ticks, Hadley," explained Lindy, reassuringly. "You really need to be worried about earwigs. When I was a camp counselor, I had an earwig crawl into my ear while I was sleeping. Also, be sure to check yourself for leeches.

"When I was a camp counselor … "

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

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