Unfolding the Map
Ticks. Little bastards. They're everywhere. In this post we look at ticks. We'll examine them, trade tick stories, and voice our disgust of ticks. It will be a penetrating, probing discussion that will leave you bloodless. I bet you can feel them crawling on you right now...just looking for the right place to plunge their head into your skin. By the way, I'm completely guessing on where William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) stopped and found the ticks on him. I put him right on the county line between Douglas and Burnett counties. Probe the map, and check yourself for ticks!
"...Somewhere in Douglas County I began falling asleep at the wheel. I pulled up a side road.
"Combing fingers through my dusty hair, my thumb struck a growth near my temple. I pushed back the hair and looked in the mirror. A goddamned tick. Another of those little things that keeps the riffraff out of God's North country. I tweezered it out, undressed, and looked for more. One crawling my leg, one my shirt. I put a match to them. If you pull a tick in the first couple of hours, you have little to fear from the transmission of blood-borne diseases. So they say."
Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 11
Somewhere in Douglas (or Burnett) County
There was a certain genius involved in the creation of The Tick. A fantastically useless superhero, he had a knack for relentlessly moving toward situations out of his control and sapping the ability of other, more capable superheroes (like American Maid) to deal with them. If a crime got solved, or a villain was defeated, it was usually more the result of accident or unforeseen circumstances than because of anything The Tick planned to do. The superhero Tick, in other words, was a parasite on the efforts of others, an irritant and frankly, a bit dangerous. That didn't mean he was completely useless. At least The Tick made me laugh.
Real ticks, on the other hand, I have generally found to be completely useless and slightly terrifying. In my mind, at least mosquitoes have some use because they feed bats. On the other hand, ticks seemed to me to be the Terminators of the parasite world (I almost wrote insect, but they are not, they are arachnids related to spiders and scorpions). My few run-ins with ticks led me to believe that they were relentless in seeking body heat. I once saw one on a picnic blanket in the Appalachians, crawling toward me in anticipation of a meal. I moved out of its path to another spot just to see what it would do, and it turned its body, following my heat like a beacon.
The thought of a tick crawling on me, boring its head into my body and sucking out my precious bodily fluids, growing larger and larger in the process, gives me a little bit of panic. That panic is partly based on what the tick does to eat, and mostly unseen and usually unfelt. It is also partly based on the fact that the tick transmits all kinds of diseases to its host. Lyme disease is, of course, the disease that we know is associated most with ticks in the United States. But ticks also transmit such lovely illnesses as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever, tularemia and tick paralysis.
Of course, like everything in the animal and plant kingdoms, ticks aren't completely useless. They feed something. Evidently, birds and lizards will eat ticks. I'm glad something does, because it just reaffirms to me that there is a food sphere - ticks may eat us but birds and lizards eat ticks. They aren't just highly efficient blood sucking machines. There is something out there that terrifies ticks just as they terrify me.
I don't have many personal stories with ticks, other than trying to avoid them as much as possible. Possibly the scariest one for me occurred when I lived in Wisconsin. I had searched for a softball in some brush while playing a softball game. Later on, my hand brushed across my leg and I absentmindedly brushed off something on it. It was a tick that had attached itself to me, but I didn't know this until later when I developed a huge bullseye rash. If you've never had a bullseye rash, it is frightening. It is very red at the center, and spreads outward in an oval shape with various degrees of lightening toward the edges, and occurs, I think, because of bacteria that got into the wound the tick made when it bored into you. Part of the reason why it is frightening is that it can be associated with Lyme disease. After I got the bullseye rash, I got myself tested twice for Lyme disease but didn't have it, thankfully.
Another run-in with ticks occurred when my wife and I drove to Florida with our dog and stopped at a natural area to stretch our legs and give ourself a break from driving. We decided to take the dog on a walk along a path through some forestation. We got back to the car, and I saw a tick crawling up my dog's leg. I started looking on him and found about a dozen ticks on him. Then, I decided to look on myself, and there were probably 4-5 on me, and the same on my wife. We practically stripped down in the parking lot to brush off ticks, and spent a lot of time going through our hair.
Like I say, I hate ticks, and even if birds and lizards do eat them, I don't see much good in them. There was, however, one time in my experience when a tick inadvertantly brought some joy to some people I know. We had invited some friends out to my property in Northern California to camp and swim in the river. These two friends had never met each other, but they hit it off. We decided to swim in the river one day au naturel. We were having a good time when all of a sudden Karen noticed that a tick had buried itself in her. Or, more specifically, in her butt cheek. Richard, our other friend, rode like a knight to the rescue. He moved in behind her and, despite her nervousness, gallantly extracted the tick from the undesirable place it had ensconced itself. The tick removal cemented a short-lived but satisfying weekend romance for the both of them. I guess even a disgusting tick can bring out the best in people, and even engender romance.
But I still loathe them.
Well, it appears that Brad Paisley's song Ticks matches my story about my friends' little romance. I wish I'd thought of the grea pickup line "I'd like to check you for ticks." My dates might have been more interesting.
If you want to know more about Douglas and Burnett County
Next up: Danbury, Wisconsin