The garden is a lovely place to relax, do a little bit of weeding, and find 3 ticks per half-hour walking up your legs. They are also partial to setting up camp on this orange watering can, which is handy, for they are easily drowned once there.
Yep. Ticks. And the destruction thereof. They (and it – the annihilating) are so much my latest obsession that I spent from 3:48am until 5:33am* Saturday morning thinking about how I would tell you all about it, this obsession of mine. For I do quite obsessively despise ticks.
This morning, I have already slayed 3 ticks, and two are crawling around on the door to my office out here in the barn. I’m letting them live, for I hope to have a photo of a tick for this post – because isn’t that what everyone wants to see on a food blog? A picture of a tick? Of course it is.
Generally, each night a bed-visiting tick graces us with its presence. Fortunately, last night, I found the tick before we went to bed, which was a nice change, because last Thursday, I awoke with a start a little after midnight, rolled out of my usual side-sleep position, and just as my lashes unhinged from themselves, my left hand reflexively reached up to my right arm, which was outstretched over my head, and snagged a deer tick crawling along my elbow.
I pinched the tick between thumb and forefinger, climbed out of bed – I actually have to climb, or as we call it “worm” out of bed as our house is quite tiny, and our bed is pushed up against the intersection of wall and eave, hence, JR’s side is the only route out of the bed. Once I had successfully wormed out of bed, I brought the offending blood sucker to the Chamber of Death. Which you may know by its more common name: the bathroom.
You see, when you place a tick on porcelain – or any other hard surface, really – it is so, so much easier to pop their little fang-filled heads off with your fingernail. Tile works particularly well, so does the counter area attached to our charcoal grill, though the wood of our Adirondack chairs is not an ideal killing surface due to the grain in the wood, which is unfortunate, given that ticks harass and taunt me in the garden each and every time I enter its gates.
But it is in the middle of the night that they cause the most anxiety. And why wouldn’t they? While we sleep, we’re utterly defenseless against biting bugs. Nice of me to remind you, I know.
I feel uniquely qualified to point out this disturbing fact, as I have a long history as a bug magnet. Spiders bite me while I sleep, leaving big, itchy, red marks; mosquitoes sneak into the house by night on our dog’s back, then buzz around my head at 2am all summer long, and they do not forget to bite me, oh no, they do not.
The mere thought of ticks walking all over me under the cover of darkness makes them that much more menacing. And sleep disrupting.
When I was five years old, I had a teddy bear, a Boston Bruins mascot whom I had named Bruin Bear. Only later in life – like, fourth grade - did I learn, much to my chagrin, that I had essentially named my bear Bear Bear, which caused great distress, but not nearly as much distress as the episode I am about to describe.
My parents wanted desperately to wean me off of sleeping with Bruin, so they introduced Mr. Mirror, a blue hand mirror whose reflection on the ceiling was meant to preoccupy me. And it did, until that summer night that I felt compelled to scratch my scalp, and got my index finger lodged under something that flapped.
My head was ripping off, I was sure of it. You can probably imagine how a 5 year old would react to this, right? Please multiply the noise of any 5 year old you know, and have heard screaming in horror, by 100. That was my reaction, which also involved describing – between shrieks and sobs – how my scalp was ripping off and was exposing my skull (thank goodness I’m so much less dramatic now. Ahem.).
When my parents arrived at my bedside, terrified looks upon both of their faces, they found an engorged, gray tick stuck to my head. Showing it to me did nothing to console me. Quite the opposite, in fact. I had learned that there were things out there in the world that wanted to suck my blood, and I swore an eternal oath of hatred and revenge. (Do you hear that, ticks? Hatred and revenge!)
I also started sleeping with Bruin Bear again, which I suppose could be considered an upside to the tick incident. (for the record, I still have Bruin Bear. He lives in the closet of our guest room, just in case I need him. Which may happen. Like later this week, when I find my scalp tearing off again.)
In second grade, when teachers could still smoke in school (after the Industrial Revolution but before the advent of the interwebs), I found a tick crawling on my arm, which resulted in a slightly less horrifying yelp than the scalp-coming-loose incident had, after which, my heroic teacher, Mr. Legg, placed the tick into his ashtray and burned the little effer up. Whew.
Even though we live in a relatively rural area, watch deer grazing quite nearby on our neighbor’s alfalfa field (and infer that there are hundreds – nay, thousands of Lyme Disease-carrying ticks piled upon their backs), and spend much of our time outdoors in the warmer weather, ticks and I had pretty much managed to keep our distance from one another from that time in Mr. Legg’s class until now.
Oh no, you see, this year, I find ticks walking on my legs while I eat lunch. I find them on the bathroom floor, the kitchen ceiling.
Okay, I’ve only found one on the ceiling, but I’m convinced that that one was actually consciously trying to jump onto JR’s head (for the purpose of sucking his blood, of course) as he walked from the living room to the kitchen. No amount of logical talk will convince me that it just fell from the ceiling.
Thankfully, and just in the nick of time, I shrieked, “Look out! TIIIIIICK!!!,” my voice distorted in super-slo-mo fashion, as though we were in an episode of NCIS, and everyone watching knows that the bomb is about to go off, only LL Cool J and Chris O’Donnell don’t, so those two braniacs in the master control room have to yell into their in-ear headsets, “BOMB!!!”
So it was just like it happens on tv, only it happened here in our kitchen: my tick-evading hero bobbed and weaved just in time for the tick to narrowly miss its target. The tick hit the floor, and JR gasped, “How did you even see that?”
I didn’t want to brag, but, really, it’s like I have tick-spotting super powers.
In the end, that tick’s fate was the NCIS equivalent of being carted off to Guantanamo. It had its little tick head removed. By who? Yeah, that’s right. By me. In the Chamber of Death.
On Easter, while enjoying time with family, and ever so shortly after finishing my plate of tiramisu, I looked down to find a tick on my spoon. A tick? On my dessert spoon? They’re clearly just mocking me now.
Oh, but who has the last laugh? Well, in the case of each individual tick that I spot with my super powers, they are not the last ones laughing. Provided, of course, that ticks have the capacity to understand humor, and that they can get a guffaw out of those fangs of theirs.
In the overall scheme of things, in the case of what’s actually important, like human and canine health, those nasty bugs do seem to be having the last laugh. We’re treating our poor elderly Golden Retriever for Lyme Disease for the second time in 6 months. Even with a K9 Advantix bath, I’m pulling ticks off of her face daily (it has worked wonders on the rest of her body, but her face is still an acceptable target for the parasites). Our neighbor had Lyme Disease last year and successfully treated it, but only after going undiagnosed for a month and feeling achy and flu-like for most of that time, so when I kill at least one deer tick and 3 or 4 wood ticks per day, I am, understandably, a little bit skittish about them latching on.
So back to Saturday night (remember that? yeah, that’s where this all started): I awakened rather abruptly, sensing multiple ticks crawling on me. One was a hair, two were not identified, though I did flail uncontrollably in an attempt to launch any real or perceived ticks from my limbs.
“Honey,” I whispered – oh, hell, who am I kidding? I said as loud as I could possibly say it, “HONEY!?!”
“In the morning, I’m going to need you to check my scalp for ticks, okay? I think I might have a tick in my hair.”
He wasn’t taking this nearly as seriously as I thought he should. I laid still for another couple of minutes. Then I started the worm-out-of-bed process, and announced, “I have to go start this whole going to bed thing over.” At 3:38am. So thank goodness I’m not nearly as dramatic as I was when I was younger and that I’m not compulsive in the least. Yes, goodness, I thank you.
And so I began the go-to-bed ritual, which is not dissimilar from the wake-up ritual: wash face, brush teeth, comb hair.
However, in this mulligan go-to-bed sequence, the hair combing was quite rough, and was focused upon the scalp area where the tick was suspected to have taken up residence.
Once I had nearly bloodied my scalp from overzealous combing, any hair that hadn’t been pulled out by said aggressive combing was put up in a bun-like labyrinth – you may be thinking labyrinth-like bun would be the more correct English usage, but if you were a tick, you would think it more a labyrinth than a bun. You know, with your hypothetical tick powers of conceptual thinking. So bun-like labyrinth it is.
The goal, of course, was (and is) to keep the ticks out of my hair, so that if there was one already dug into my scalp, others did not join in on the fun. For that is what they do. If one latches onto our dog in a particular spot, two others try to piggyback on that spot. If you haven’t witnessed this yourself, it is just as disgusting as it sounds, I assure you.
I returned to the bed and announced, “This is a bug-free zone. This is a bug-free zone. This is a bug-free zone.” Three times, loudly, and with authority, a technique from the !Kung! tribe that I learned about in college. They use this technique for divorce, which seemed appropriate, as I would like to divorce our entire home from the ticks, but if that isn’t possible, it would be nice to at least divorce our bedroom from them.
When a !Kung! marriage is coming to an end, the divorce-initiator takes the spouse’s belongings, piles them outside the door of their home, and announces, “I divorce you. I divorce you. I divorce you.” There. Done.
It succeeded somewhat, at least for the immediate term. So thank you !Kung! tribespeople.
Not a single bug, nor even a phantom bug, crawled on my person the rest of the night. My body was bug free. However, the same could not be said for my obsessive brain, for the mere thought of them caused me to lay awake for the rest of the night, ruminating over how much, how truly, madly, deeply, I revile their little blood-meal having, thousands-of-eggs laying ways.
After thinking about it at great length – you know, obsessively – I’m thinking that this method would work better if I could find tick belongings to pile up outside our doors. Perhaps I’ll start saving those decapitated remains from the Chamber of Death, bag those up, and leave use those as surrogate belongings. Hmmmmm. That could work. I’ll keep you posted.
*I know that it was 5:33am that I stopped thinking about it, because that’s the time that I woke JR up and said,”What the frick is that noise? Is someone getting into your truck?” Oh, but they weren’t getting into his truck, they were just chatting it up while dumping their garbage in the wooded area in front of our neighbor’s house. This may be a future obsession: figuring out why people come to rural towns to dump their trash, tvs, arm chairs, et cetera, rather than disposing of them properly.