‘Get out there,’ but be ‘prepared’

The winter that wasn’t.

Almost every state had a warmer-than-usual January, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

So, excepting those who rely on snow removal for the season’s income, the weekend warrior of the winter sport variety, or kids desperate to sled, build snowmen or make snow angels, it’s safe to say 2012′s uneventful winter was welcomed.

My youngest, Ava, received for Christmas a snowball thrower, a snowball case for easy reload, an igloo-making contraption and a super tricked-out sled.

Try telling a 3-year-old all those things will still be good next year.  Try explaining to the same 3-year-old a few flurries will not a snow angel make, and further, that a “dirt angel” is probably not a good idea.

With all that behind us, warm weather and first blooms — four weeks ahead of last year, according to my garden journal — inspire us to get out and get our hands dirty.

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but there has been a lot of speculation about deer tick populations in response to the unusual temperatures.

Predictions are tricky. Predictions by authorities are less so.

The National Pest Management Association is forecasting a heavier tick season than in previous years. But get this — we have acorns and 2010 to blame, not the weather, as you’d expect.

Oak trees, particularly in the Northeast, produced a large acorn crop in 2010. That crop led to an increased white-footed mouse population last year. The deer tick population increased because the ticks had plenty of mice to feed on when they hatched.

According to NPMA, “this spring those same ticks will be looking for their second meal as nymphs, but a decline in the mice population may force them to find new warm-blooded hosts – humans.”

Acorns or no acorns, it’s important to be vigilant as with the invigorating warm weather comes the deer tick nymph, a reminder we continue to have the highest reported rate of Lyme disease in the country.

Children aged 5 to 9 have the highest rates of Lyme disease, but we are all susceptible as are our pets.

Deer ticks are much smaller than dog ticks, often no bigger than the head of a pin, and are much more difficult to detect.

There are three stages in the deer tick cycle: larvae, nymph and adult.

The larvae hatch in July and August and are not yet carriers of Lyme disease. Most threatening are the nymphs that appear in April, and are no bigger than pieces of black pepper.

One of the best disease-prevention methods is reducing exposure, including reducing tick populations.NPMA offers the following tick tips:

Use tick repellent when outdoors and wear long sleeved shirts and pants, preferably light in color, so ticks are easier to detect.

Use preventative medicine on pets, as prescribed by your veterinarian.

Once indoors, inspect clothing and your entire body. Check family members and pets who have been outdoors.

Keep grass cut low, including around fences, sheds, trees, shrubs and swing sets. Remove weeds, woodpiles and other debris from the yard.

While entomologists say the mild weather this winter is unlikely to spawn a tick population explosion, yet they suspect that, just like us, ticks happen to be enjoying the outdoors two months earlier this year.

It’s a matter of opportunity.

Knowledge and preparedness never hurt anyone. Get out there and enjoy today, tomorrow and the months ahead.

Recently I came across a photograph of evergreens enshrouded in an early morning mist. The artist’s overlay, beautiful in its simplicity, read: “Explore/Breathe.”

Let’s do just that.

We believe everyone everywhere benefits from a connection with nature.