Saturday, August 30, 2008

Over and Under the Rocks

We went "up North" last week, which means we went to the family vacation home on Woman Lake, Minnesota. I used to go up there all the time when I was a kid, but we only get up about once a year or so now (which is plenty; I don't know how my parents did it, going nearly every weekend with four kids).

I used to like to play in the shallow water as a kid, and with the water level a bit low this summer, we had a nice little bit of shoreline, so I enjoyed selecting rocks and stacking them into cairns. I wasn't content with just the very small rocks, or with the ones lying on the surface of the sand and easily picked up; when I spied a partially submerged one that looked like just the sort of thing I was looking for -- kind of flat and oval, good for stacking -- I pulled it out of the lake bottom, releasing a cloud of dirt and bubbles in the process.

I also used to get leeches on my feet when I was little -- we called them bloodsuckers. I remember my mother and aunt patiently picking them off (and maybe it was only once, but I sure remember being freaked out about it). So it didn't really surprise me when I was stepping out of the water and my 20-year-old daughter pointed to my right foot and announced, "You have a leech."

It was about an inch and a half long, and although I acted calm, I was a bit squeamish about it, so I asked my husband to pull it off and he kindly obliged. Then I noticed a few tiny little gray leeches, about a quarter-inch long, on the same foot. These weren't as intimidating, so I tried to pull them off myself, but they were too tiny to grip. "We need to use a tweezers," I told my husband.

We went up to the house and he patiently picked all the tiny leeches off my foot -- we counted 14 of them! All of these were on the same foot, and nobody else got any, even though we had all been walking around in the shallow water among the rocks. So I wondered if that submerged rock I disturbed had been some sort of leech "nest."

I found a NOVA Web site based on a program they did about the medical use of leeches, and from there linked to a fact sheet that explained that leeches do attach their eggs to rocks, so I must have stepped into a newly hatched brood or something. I guess I got my comeuppance for disturbing the lake bottom -- from now on, I'll only select rocks that are lying on the shore!