Whistling through the graveyard: Some goofy death fears



We’ve just crossed Halloween and All-Souls Day off the calendar, but that doesn’t stop a Baby Boomer like me from conjuring up new and irrational death fears. But at least I can laugh at myself in a sort of “whistling through the graveyard” manner.

Through the years I’ve borrowed irrational fears from friends and made some up myself to fill a newspaper column. Consider my all-time favorite: Being crushed to death in a mammogram machine. That belonged to a friend and newspaper associate. But my own, which is darned apropos right now: Death by politics.

Here’s a new one I’ll bet you haven’t yet begun to fear: Death by oak tree.

I mean, think about it.

We have a bumper crop of acorns this year. I’m thinking about filing an insurance claim for my roof and home siding because the damage these killer nuts have inflicted are potentially worse than the worst hailstorm. In fact, they make such loud noises when they hit that my dogs start barking and the security alarm thinks an intruder is in the vicinity. They even set off the motion lights outside.

Add to the noise the temptation for the dogs to chase the acorns as they roll down the street, followed by the irresistible urge to eat them. My vet told me last week that eating acorns will cause the dogs to have diarrhea. As I dutifully use a plastic baggie to pick up what one of my 15 pound Llhasas has left behind, I see the vet’s point.

Yet there is an even bigger potential for death by oak tree from something smaller than an acorn. I’m talking about the dreaded killer oak mite.

Twice now I’ve opened the daily paper to read a banner headline about the scourge of the year. . . the microscopic oak leaf mite. I am assuming that local reporters have oak trees in their yards and convinced their editors that this is the story of the year, since they have themselves been suffering the itch that comes from these critters. Well, I’m right there with them.

My first brush with these irritating things came right after a friend with muscles and a Dodge pickup helped me remove an aging and scraggly privet hedge from the front of my house. This process first involved putting a chain around the base of the bushes, attaching the other end to the hitch on the Dodge and then slowly prying the bush from the ground. That process worked twice . . . until the chain began sliding off the branches and stripping the leaves without ejecting said bush from the earth. From that time forward I rode the ledge of a tiling spade to dig while my partner used his back muscles and arms to pull. It wasn’t until a few hours after that grueling work we both began itching, never suspecting until we read the newspaper a few days later, that the red welts we wore as privet-digging souvenirs were courtesy of the ancient oak in the front yard.

Oak mite bites come and they eventually disappear, only to be replaced by a fresh crop. The only upside is that these tiny, invisible pests allow us bragging rights. A few ladies I am in an arthritis swim class with have started sharing bite locations in the locker room after our showers. We have all agreed they are x-rated critters with a penchant for unmentionable bite targets and even worse than seasonal chiggers in that regard.

I saw my sister-in-law Saturday for the first time in a few months and as she dropped me off after lunch at a French cafe she lifted her pant leg to show me where her oak mites had been dining. She won this dubious contest as her bites looked to be morphing into permanent scars.

Then a few days ago I wondered how I had managed a fresh crop of bites on my face, since I had not been working out in the yard lately. But this morning’s newspaper article solved that puzzle. I had taken a nap recently with my window open to a cool fall breeze, but learned that they come in through window screens.

As if fall hay fever was not enough to keep some of us hunkered down inside, we now have further cause to close ourselves away from the hazards that await us in the fearful outside world. Hay fever and oak mites have a common cure: A hard freeze. And that can’t come soon enough for me this year.

While waiting for hell to freeze over I think I’ll contact my insurance agent to see what clause “death by oak tree” might fall under in my homeowner’s policy.