There needs to be a web site where people who love wandering, hiking, exploring outdoors wherever they go can check out the basic needs/conditions for being comfortable outdoors in any particular area. Here’s my contribution for going outdoors in Oklahoma.
We, in the Pacific Northwest, know that if you want to go outdoors in these environs you need a rain hat, rain jacket, rain pants, rain shoes and a cover for your purse/pack—just in case.
There is no such thing as bad weather; there is only bad clothing.
I grew up in Oklahoma. From my memoir in progress, here is what I have to say about a New York City family acclimating ourselves to eastern Oklahoma.
It was summer when we rolled into the driveway of our new home in Muskogee.
At last, we were done with the nomadic life the war forced on us. Mother was apprehensive about living in former Indian Territory, a place of poison snakes, tarantulas and tornadoes. …
Mother contacted the local Girl Scout office and before I knew it, I was off to the Heart o’ the Hills camp on a bus full of girls. They called me the Yankee, the girl with long blond braids. At camp, I went to pick up a ruby bug with a crescent shaped tail. Seconds before my fingers reached for its tightly sprung body, Janet tackled me to the ground. “That’s a scorpion. It will kill you,” she warned.
Dad took us in the Nash station wagon to explore the wayside, that space between the edge of the county road and the farmer’s fence. He loved harvesting whatever could be found and there were berries everywhere. Berries come with chiggers, tiny red bugs that bite without mercy. We were coming to terms with Oklahoma. Cottonmouth water moccasins and copperhead snakes, poison ivy and low-lying nettles were still to come. I became an astute observer in the wild, always noticing where my foot or hand would end up before setting them down. I learned how to protect myself so I could spend as much time outdoors as possible without getting hurt.
How could I forget all this when I flew to Tulsa for my sixtieth high school reunion earlier this month? I rented a car with every intention of exploring my old childhood haunts. Ignoring the cautionary warning of my host, a fellow Girl Scout from school and camp all those years ago, I tromped off into the oak studded hills above the Illinois River. The scent of large animal along the path, the acorns kicked up by my tennis shoes, the crackle of blue jays, the shrill call of cardinals filled me with nostalgia and happiness. I walked in shorts, a tank top, no socks protected only by a sprinkling of Deep Woods Off. I shake my head as I write this. What was I thinking? I wasn’t thinking, nor remembering the past.
Chiggers. These are tiny critters you cannot see. They wait for you on the bending grasses and hop on, looking for a warm, creased place on your body, happy for lunch. Unlike a mosquito or horse fly, you can’t feel them as they nestle in for the banquet. Unlike fire flies or wasps, they do not signal their approach. Their bite isn’t noticeable until later, quite a bit later.
My classmate and I went in search of Camp Fred Darby where we had spent such happy times. The Boy Scout council of Muskogee “loaned” it to the Girl Scouts for the first two weeks in August. I was there as a camper for seven years and as a counselor for one more, returning from college. I played the flute unit by unit to call revelry and taps. In my days at camp, I got poison ivy and chiggers but learned to dust Sulphur powder around my ankles and in all the creased—back of knees, crotch, waist band, arm pits, inside the elbows. Gallons of Calamine lotion and packages of cotton balls soothed the damage. We never stayed indoors. We scared up diamond backed rattlers, copper heads. Cottonmouth water moccasins swam in the river with us as we floated the Illinois on inner tubes. I remember it as glorious, scorpions and tarantulas, ticks and chiggers, snakes and all.
As my companion and I drove the back roads in search of the “new” Girl Scout camp, Camp Polly, I remembered Pauline Williams, the Ex. Dir. of Muskogee Girl Scout council. Ms. Williams was my hero, my role model. I wanted to a professional girl scout when I grew up. I remembered my mother writing to tell me she had helped lay the mosaic trefoil in the main meeting place for the camp.
I parked my car outside the gate, got out my hiking sticks and took off exploring this place so many girls have enjoyed since I left the area. I found the Pagoda with the trefoil. I found Inspiration Point. I found Polly’s trail and the swimming area on Ft. Gibson Lake.
I gave no thought to chiggers.
That night at the home of a Tulsa girl—she was the Ex. Dir. of the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce for several years—and her ninety year old mother showered sympathy and remedies on me.
“Where have you been?”
“Outdoors in Oklahoma, of course.”
They took one look at my welt covered body and offered Epsom salts bath; washed all my clothing in hot water; applied clear nail polish to all the many bits. Don’t scratch, whatever you do. Chiggers do no lasting damage, unlike ticks. But if you succumb to the itching, you could get an infection.
I left for the airport covered in welts and itching like mad. When I deplaned in Seattle later that day, I had twice as many bits. More of those damn chiggers were still riding in my tennis shoes and found their way up my legs. Nothing is as hard to resist as the screaming call of chigger bites.
My house present to my classmate is two canisters of Sulphur powder with instructions for use against chiggers. Maybe she will go outside again. I didn’t meet a single outdoor person in eastern Oklahoma, with the exception of a lovely young woman in the Tahlequah Chamber of Commerce office who is a life time member of the Girl Scouts of America and helped us find Camp Polly. The outdoor people have given up because of the humidity, the bugs, and chiggers in favor of air-conditioned exercise.
One more caution to people who love the outdoors and travel in Oklahoma: you must prepare for going indoors, too. It is freezing in restaurants, public libraries, churches, movie theaters and most people’s homes. Take long pants and sweaters to don indoors if you want to be comfortable. Or a warm shawl. Here in the northwest the difference between the indoor and outdoor temperature is a few degrees year round. We put on sweaters, or take them off to regulate ourselves.
Going outdoors in Oklahoma in the summer? Dress warmly indoors and carry Sulphur powder. After you dust the powder over all the tender spots on your body, tuck your long pants into tall socks and button your long sleeves. You’ll be good to go. Enjoy! It’s beautiful out there in Northeastern Oklahoma.
Be well, Do well and Keep Moving,