Shannon Hayes  @  ChelseaGreen

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What We Learned From Swimming With Leeches

Posted on Friday, August 3rd, 2012 at 9:13 am by Shannon Hayes

We don’t go away much in the summer. Highways and traffic grate at our nerves, we fixate too much on what could be getting done on the farm, we get grouchy filling up at the pump.

That is not to say our summers are without bliss. But once things are growing in the soil and critters are out on pasture, we tend to stay within a small radius. We don’t take “days off” in the conventional sense; rather we find our summer vacation in the interstices of our daily labor and take our seasonal bliss in place—long lunches, naps, or reading novels on the back porch; staying up a bit later in the evening to watch the girls wrestle and dance in the grass; early morning hikes before the sun rises too high in the sky; and best of all, retreating to the farm pond on the side hill across the creek. If “family vacation” exists for our clan in July and August, then it is defined by late afternoons and early evenings beside the pond, watching the sun retreat over the hilltops, zipping back and forth across the water with dogs, kids, friends and neighbors alike.

Our retreat was suddenly whisked away by freshwater vampires — evil, spineless, bloodsucking parasites.
Thus, when Saoirse, Ula, and Grammie came down from the pond one hot day this past May and reported that they’d found leeches on their legs following their first swim, three generations of our family fell into despair. Our retreat was suddenly whisked away by freshwater vampires—evil, spineless, bloodsucking parasites.

We tried to keep it a secret while we decided what to do. We didn’t want our friends and neighbors to start avoiding our summer watering hole. But news of leeches leaked through Ula and her five-year-old network, parents were made aware, and we suddenly felt as though we had a highly transmissible social disease that was isolating us from our community and friends. No one wants to swim with leeches. Or, at least, that was my initial conclusion.

Grammie began doing research on leech control. She concluded that they had probably been present all along, but that our activity on the pond’s edge obliged them to burrow deep down or linger along the backsides of the pond where the cattails obstruct our swimming and play. She grew angry. Leeches didn’t bother her if they wanted to live on the far side of the pond, or if they wanted to inhabit one of the many other smaller farm ponds that we use for our gravity-fed watering system. But this was her space, where she played with her grandchildren. We were sent up with rakes, hoes, and stick-retrieving dogs to stir up the water and disturb the area where they’d settled. She began scavenging around for tin cans to build leech traps.

Keep reading over at Yes! magazine’s website, and find out why leeches might not be as creepy as you think…

rawmilkrevolution Shannon Hayes is the author of Radical Homemakers.
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