What a wonderful world

Nature hates me.

Actually, I think it’s safe to say that nature and I hate each other equally – the net result of more than 30 years of mutual antagonizing. It is something of a dichotomy considering my soft spot for neopaganism and strong preference for organics, but that’s where my affection ends. I just can’t love something that has tried to kill me on more than one occasion.

Nature nearly won when I was five years-old, too. Back then, allergy testing happened only after your throat swelled shut – which pretty much meant that if you were allergic to anything, you walked around in a snotty, itchy fog.

That’s why my parents never thought twice about bringing a live Christmas tree into our home that year. My instant wheezing hardly stopped anyone from decorating that wafting tower of moldy wretchedness, myself included. What did we know? It was a tree, we covered it with ornaments, draped it in lights and garland; these are the things you do during the holidays.

I was so entranced by the tree, I immediately curled up under it to gaze through the branches and hopefully catch site of Disney’s Chip or Dale. And that’s exactly where my parents found me an hour or so later – coated with a fine dusting of dropped pine needles, covered in hives, and violently gasping for breath.

A hasty trip to the ER, several hits of epinephrine, and a pocketful of steroids later, and my parents wisely decided to relocate the holiday tree to the front lawn. I wasn’t even allowed out of the car upon checking out of intensive car, and I still recall pressing my face against the chilly glass window in misery as I watched my father wrestle the tree out the front door to prop it up in front of the house with several wooden planks.

We’d only recently moved into that house, and the land was so new that sod hadn’t even been laid for the front lawn. All that stood in front of the house was an expanse of dirt and that damn tree in the middle of it all, a silent, but deadly, enemy.

Benedryl and Albuterol became my best friends over time. Still, even the drugs couldn’t protect me enough from the elements that I didn’t become that wheezy, gimpy kid who dreaded the track and field portion of gym class.

I can only hope that regulations have been put on gym teachers these days the way they have on employers in the U.S., because back then my junior high gym class was more sweatshop than educational institution. Spring would roll around and we’d be forced at whistle point to run laps around the outdoor track all period long. I’d be lapped five, six, seven times by the majority of my classmates while I stumbled on the outskirts of the pack with the fat kids, struggling for air and dodging bits of pollen that wafted in the breeze.

Not that it mattered to the teacher. To keep us moving she’d clap her hands, widen her eyes and yell so viciously that her eyelids would fold over themselves. You’d regularly catch her manually flipping them into place after a particularly nasty tirade and quietly hope that one day she’d finally burst something that couldn’t be flipped back.
It’s a fair wonder then that I ever agreed to visit our friends’ cabin in the Michigan woods with my guy recently. My allergies have decreased over the years to be sure, but they’re certainly not abated completely. And my general avoidance of nature has made “roughing it”, to me, sharing a bathroom and foregoing the use of my blow dryer.

Still, I find that alcohol makes a lovely chaser to Benedryl, and I was assured that our friends’ cabin was more Pottery Barn catalog than Survivalist magazine.

And truly, the weekend home is lovely with its vaulted ceilings, skylights and hard wood floors. Even its location, tucked into the woods and just steps away from Lake Michigan, couldn’t be more desirable. Not that it stopped me from surveying my surroundings upon pulling into the driveway and declaring, “That’s a lot of … trees.”

My guy patted my head in a bemused way and quickly grabbed the arsenal of liquor we’d disguised as a hostess gift. Clearly, I’d be the one doing the heavy drinking that weekend.

Perhaps it’s all my time at the gym these days, or maybe the antihistamine-vodka combination is a true wonder drug, because for all my near death experiences in the past, I found that my guy and I had an amazing time in the woods with our friends. I hiked, gathered branches, sat in front of a roaring fire pit and waded through Lake Michigan’s waves with hardly a sniffle and only a few girly freakouts… Until I got home, that is.

Within 24 hours, five giant welts cropped up on my body, all red and hard and seething with the kind of toxins that both itch and cause panic attacks. The welts were too random and widespread to be of the contact dermatitis variety, which left me to conclude that nature had dropped some sort of vile insects onto me and allowed them to run rampant on my unsuspecting body.

Fortunately, I had the world’s greatest paranoia-inducing resource at my fingertips: the internet. Google should really insist upon user prescreens before revealing search results, much the same way porn sites confirm that you’re of porn-viewing age and mind before hurtling videos of Cleveland steamers and blumpkins at you.

I’m certain asking questions such as, “Are you really sure you want to see these images?” and “Are you currently in a state of irrational panic that might cause you to make snap decisions, like handing your guy a magnifying glass and asking him to search you for ticks?” would save countless individuals from night terrors and humiliation.

Of course, it might also help if that person’s partner didn’t pretend to dig a tick out of their leg and remind them of the spider face scene in the movie The Believers. That could just be me, though.

The good news is that I’ve self-diagnosed my welts as the hysterical reaction to chigger bites, and not deer ticks or perhaps a wacky version of stigmata. The bad news is that it took a bottle of calamine lotion and Jack Daniels to get there.

Nature: 5,873,632. Me: 0.

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