Gardening Tips: August 13, 2014
The dangers of country life
Last week I wrote about a couple of poisonous plants that may be encountered by both locals and especially tourists. Sometimes I forget that most people do not pay as much attention to plants as I do. This week I will focus on some of the other hazards that people should be aware of when spending time in the Catskills.
Falling off a cliff is something that is often joked about, but it is really no joke at all, as we have had two fatalities this summer already at Katerskill Falls in Greene County. Our region has many scenic trails, lakes, streams and the beautiful Hudson River. All of these present potential hazards that are easily mitigated by being prepared and careful. Hiking requires good boots and no one should go out on the state trails without proper footwear. Flip flops, sandals and even sneakers are unacceptable for hiking anywhere in our region. Both of the fatalities we had may be attributed to improper footwear. If you would not allow a friend to drive drunk, you should not allow them to go hiking, wearing sandals or flip flops. Boating can be almost as dangerous if you are not prepared for certain situations. The current in the Hudson River is extraordinarily strong and can wash people away in seconds if they fall overboard. Everyone should wear life preservers when boating anywhere in the region. Canoeing and kayaking are even more dangerous.
Insect stings can also be fatal if someone is allergic to the venom. We are entering the time of year when stinging insects such as hornets, yellow jackets, wasps, and ground bees of all sorts are potentially very dangerous because their nests are fully developed. Most people experience serious pain and swelling after being stung, but any reaction that is not limited to the stung area is a serious issue. Breaking out in hives, swelling of the neck or throat or any problems breathing are 911 issues if you should have this reaction. Although mosquitoes can transmit West Nile and perhaps other diseases, I consider them as far less of a risk then ticks. Ticks are very common locally for most of the summer and they infect thousands of people each year with Lyme disease as well as about a half dozen other serious diseases. The best defense against ticks are repellents and thorough body checks after being in places they frequent, which is anywhere in the forest or fields with tall grasses or shrubs. Mowed areas and well-worn trails present far less risk than woods with stonewalls or brushy areas.
Snakes scare most people, but the truth is that they present almost no risk at all. There are a few areas in the region that may harbor our only local poisonous snake, the copperhead, but the chances of anyone getting bitten by one is infinitesimal. In my 40 plus years of full time residence, I have never seen one, nor have I ever heard of anyone getting bitten by one. They are very reclusive and avoid humans as much as possible. We do have large black snakes and water snakes, (no cotton mouths) and a few other species, but they present no serious risk at all. You are more likely to be struck by lightning than to be bitten by a poisonous snakes.
Lightening actually does present some risk for hikers and campers but it is not a serious risk. Black bears are equally harmless for the most part, if people just use common sense and do not feed them intentionally or unintentionally. Coyotes likewise present no threat to humans in our area but they may prey on pet cats or small dogs if the opportunity arises.
ATVs and other off road vehicles are great fun to ride, but they do present serious risks and are responsible for many injuries and even deaths each year. In fact, I rank them as dangerous as hiking with improper footwear at the top of my list of risks. Kids and adults all need to wear helmets and observe precautions when using any off road machinery. Of course drinking while driving, boating, and riding ATVs are a major cause of injuries and death each summer. Don’t do it! Even in your own car you need to drive defensively during tourist season. Recognize that tourists may sometimes forget that we do have traffic when they stop in the middle of the highway.
There are risks associated with much of the fun stuff that tourists and locals all enjoy and that is part of the joy of spending time here. Learn to recognize the few poisonous plants that are common, (poison ivy, hogweed, and wild parsnip) exercise caution with any machinery, dress appropriately, respect the wilderness, and beware of deer ticks!