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Jessie Veeder

COMING HOME: Bending the rules ends in surprise infestation

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WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- We were told not to go swimming in the beaver dam behind the house, the dam tucked down between the steep banks of the tree-littered coulee. The one with the most frogs and water bugs and mystery.

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The deepest one. The biggest one. The furthest one.

My best friend and I were 9 and 10, and we mostly abided by the rules – look both ways before riding your bike across the highway. Take off your muddy boots before coming in the house. Wash your hands before supper.

Out on the ranch between the mile or so of open space and empty road between my house and hers, we were given free rein. We could use what we needed for our go-cart out of the shop. We had full access to the kitchen to invent award-winning recipes. And we had free rein of the tack room when we saddled up to ride.

But we were not to go swimming in that deep, tempting beaver dam so close, but so far away from my house.

But it was finally spring. School was out, or maybe it was the last week, and the air was finally warm, the trees turning green, the sun was staying out later, and we were a little restless from riding busses, sitting behind desks, and following rules.

Perhaps that was the reason. Or it was the freedom our bodies felt without the weight of our snowsuits. Or maybe we just reached the age where we wanted to test our bravery, our limits or our ability to keep a sworn secret.

Who knows why kids choose to disregard the rules, but there we were on a warm spring afternoon, throwing sticks in the creek and watching them float over tiny rock rapids. We scoped out the best logs for a new summer fort and slowly made our way toward that big beaver dam.

Our decision to strip down to our underwear and take a plunge into that big tempting body of water wasn’t necessarily pre-meditated. That’s the thing about children – their intentions mostly start off innocently enough, and then they spot a giant turtle sunning himself out on a log. Then one of them convinces the other to roll up her pant legs and wade in after it.

Because wouldn’t it be cool to have a pet turtle this summer?

And by the time the turtle senses danger and plops back into the water, both girls are at least knee deep in the water, pants safely piled on the shore, T-shirt sleeves rolled as they try their hand at minnow capture before getting distracted by the possibility of taking home a half-dozen pet frogs. And then, “Well, look over there, there’s the beaver and, uh, oh my GAWD!!! Is that a woodtick crawling up your face!!??”

Yes, she had a woodtick, and then another one, and another, and another, crawling up the back of her T-shirt.

“Check me!” I screamed as we fled the water for the safety of the shore, scooping up our pants and shoes as my friend picked at the back of my legs.

“There are hundreds of them!” she hollered. “I think we hit a nest!”

Our pale, muddy, tick-infested bodies glistened in the spring sun. We reached up to our hairlines and scratched, checked behind our ears and flung tick after tick into the grass before making the instinctual and mutual decision to start running, wide open, half-naked, voices squealing toward the house, toward my mother, who was the only one who could save us from the hundreds of blood-sucking devils invading our space and ruining a perfectly legitimate attempt at bending the rules.

Yes, we were told not to go swimming in the beaver dam behind the house. And I know now that the wood ticks weren’t the reason for the rule, but from that moment on, those creepy little creatures sure made good supervisors.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go check for ticks.

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Jessie Veeder
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City.
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