Don’t worry, they’re just dangerous parasites

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Birch trees are nature’s version of that guy you know strung like a trip wire for any good excuse to start wearing shorts again. It’s not about temperature. It’s about attitude. Anyway, it actually is warm now and the birches have already donned light green, pale trunks shining in the sun. Trees of all colors and ages will soon follow.

It takes a hard soul to avoid the euphoria of spring in Northern Minnesota. This is especially true after May Day when we collectively realize that the mathematical odds of a big snow storm have been downgraded from “Prolly” to “Prolly Not.” Experienced Minnesotans further understand that the fleeting phenomenon of 70 degrees without mosquitos won’t last forever, and thus should be enjoyed with abandon.

On a particularly glorious day, my son Henry and I went for a walk in the woods near our home. Nearly 10, his explorer spirit pushed us beyond the very definition of “walking on a trail.” Neverthless, flat, dry grass made the wildness seem like an old rug, a lack of rain keeping even low areas arid and walkable. We dodged sticks and peeked into stumps, hawks circling above in pursuit of the small critters we could hear rustling about.

Hold up, I said. I’ve got a tick on my shoe.

Henry asked why we had to worry about ticks crawling on us. I mean, he understood it was annoying, but what’s the big deal about “checking for ticks?”

It then occurred to me that we are seldom called upon to explain ticks from the top. So, I did.

MN Dept. of Health and Human Services

MN Dept. of Health and Human Services

Well, see, it’s like this. Ticks are little bugs that try to bite us and suck our blood. We don’t want that.

It was right about then that a tick … OK, three ticks … started crawling up Henry’s leg, causing some concern.

Oh, don’t worry, I said. They won’t bite you right away. They usually wait awhile. They hide in your clothes, eventually working their way to a fold in your skin or under your hair, where at some point they attach to you and drink your blood.

The boy and I agreed this was gross, but at least it wasn’t the end of the world. We have lots of blood, after all.

But wait, I said. There’s more. See, some ticks carry diseases. If they bite us, they pass those diseases to us and it can make us really sick. So we have to make sure ticks don’t attach to our skin if we can help it.

About then, five more ticks started crawling up Henry while scads more emerged from my shoes and socks like radio waves. Lots of rapid movement. The tick talk was on hold while we flailed about.

But wait, he said. If ticks cause diseases why are we out here? Why do we leave the house at all? (He’s a very literal kid).

Well, these are wood ticks. The kinds of ticks that cause the worst diseases are much smaller. In fact, it’s very hard to see them. They’re called deer ticks. Why? Because they live where there are lots of deer. (Side note, our land is essentially a network of hamster tubes for deer).

For some reason Henry really wanted to go home right then. Still, even though it took a few days, he did eventually go outside again. Now we just flush ticks or smash them with metal objects, the way nature intended.

Warm weather reminds us that the wilderness of Northern Minnesota will sustain us, but also keep us humble. At least the birches have leafed out, welcoming us to our most wonderful, if somewhat dangerous, time of year.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This post first appeared in the Sunday, May 10, 2015 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. In the summer of 2014 we had deer ticks on us from our own yard/woods for the first time ever. They are almost impossible to detect them.

    Fall 2014: I’m not well. I have an intermittent fever, and large red spots on various spots of my body, but they don’t look like anything in warning articles about ticks. My husband insisted I go to the doctor, which I did immediately.

    Yup, Lyme Disease as well as anaplasmosis, another tick borne illness. This was proven by lab tests that took about 4 days, but the physician was suspicious enough to start me on medication immediately. I’m very grateful that this was caught early and that I got better immediately.

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