By David Pyle, English Faculty.
I’m accustomed to waking up to my old-school Tick-Tocking clock, but, unfortunately, my early morning began with a tick. And then another one. And a third.
And, these weren’t clocks. They’re ticks, actual ticks, that are trying to live and eat rent-free on my body. All over my body (yes, in that area. Yes, in that other area, too). My girlfriend, Jennifer, along with Sophie the dog and I had spent the previous Memorial Day holiday exploring around and camping in Southern Illinois at the Shawnee National Forest. The $8.00 a night campsite offered a nice glimpse of wildlife: deer, a few raccoons, a variety of birds, and lots of ticks.
There’s two types currently residing in the tree branches and leaves just south of Carbondale: deer ticks and Lone Star ticks (as the name suggests, they’re big, carry weapons, and are most likely Republicans).
Lone Star ticks are easy to identify, as they’re about as big as a small raisin. They have a distinct white dot on their backs, not that this info would be a factor in one’s decision to allow them to remain on you, or not. These ticks, who, according to USDA Shawnee National Forest website, can spot a host, i.e. me, from 20 feet away. They hunker down in grass, positioning themselves in an advantageous spot with a goal of reaching your pant legs. Also, they hang out in taller bushes and short trees, dropping down onto unsuspecting, or, for that matter, suspecting, victims. They’re hari-kari Nuttalliella namaqua.
Deer ticks are a bit harder to spot. In fact, you feel their prescience first. They’re super-tiny, about the size of a pinhead. These blood-sucka’s crawl around on grass and leaves, looking for opportunities to climb up hosts’ legs. In both cases, once these critters get ta’ biting, you usually know that they’re there. You can also feel them walking around your body—say, if you’re sleeping, for example— searching for the optimal spot to hide-n-bite. They’ve been on your person for a while, making the long journey from your foot zone to your armpit, behind-the-knee, or waistband zones. At least 15 times each night during our 3-night stay, the other 2 warm bodies in the tent would hear a jolt (“Oh, sh*t—is that a tick?!), followed by the clumsy search for the trusty flashlight, followed by a rustling search for, in my case, eyeglasses, followed by a click of the light and a few minutes of floor-to-ceiling body inspection (stare at the mole, see if it moves).
The larger Lone Star tick is easily pulled right out of your skin; the deer tick, sans tweezers, has to be pinched out with the very end of your fingers (don’t forget to sacrifice 4-5 leg hairs while you’re at it). The final sound is the unzipping of the tent’s door (only two inches—don’t let any more in…) to drop the tick back into its own territory. Now sigh heavily—you’ve won this round. Then, try—just try—to go back to sleep without the paranoia of the mass of lying-in-wait ticks, who somehow are smart enough to know to wait a good 20 minutes, when you’re only dreaming of the tick attacks, before again advancing to plasma-town.
If you’ve never had a tick suck on you, let me describe it for you. If you are luckily enough to be awake to watch this thing bite you, you’ll feel an instant pinch on your skin, delicately balanced with a persistent itch (learn to love it; you’ll have a full 7 days to embrace this hellish ying-yang of strange feelings: itch itch itch, scratch scratch scratch, burn burn burn, curse curse curse). It attaches only with the mouth, hoping to feed for the required 6 – 10 days before dropping off and laying 4,000 – 6,000 eggs. Yes, 4-6k eggs per tick. Good news, though…once a tiny, tiny deer tick gulps on ya’ for 3-4 days, it becomes almost big enough to reveal itself as a tick, and not just another scabby remnant of past scrap- and-destroy missions.
Right now, I have 20 – 30 “tickies” (tick hickies), some of which can be publically displayed, some I could never show, to anyone. Some welts are large (pinky-finger tip) and some are small (mosquito bite), all are red and itch like the devil’s business. Most I removed at the campground, using tweezers that we were forced to buy from Wal-Mart (talk about an ethical dilemma…but, we caved, sad to have supported the MTFs—the Malaysian Tweezer Factories), but even with much visual reconnaissance, these buggers hitch a ride back to good ol’ Chicago. I’m not sure where they’re hiding out, but they still showing up, days later, allowing me to experience a bit of nature indoors.
Sophie the dog, affectionately nicknames “Lil’ Sophie Tick-head,” fared much worse, being so low to the ground and all. Over the course of a week, we’ll mine at least 50 ticks off her (sometimes a soft “click” sound, accompanied with the sight of a small nugget of inner-ear flesh, echoes around the room). Jennifer and I have different disposal methods, mine being the sensitive “I’m not going to kill you, but am going to place you outside where you’ll have to Darwinize yourself to some other sucker, sucker.” Jennifer prefers the Charles Bronson-revenge type style, fiendishly smiling as she walks towards the toilet bowl (“Dead tick walkin’…). In the out-of-doors, she’ll “pull and drop,” but inside, she’s got quite the Michael Corleone attitude, during the scene where machine gun bullets are sprayed around his bedroom by Johnny Ola’s hitmen. She screams to the tick, “You see what’s happening in my home. Where my life-partner and dog sleep?! In my home…” Then, she gives them a flush that they can’t refuse (except for their jaws and un-squishable skin/bodies, they are pretty vulnerable…).
In my many years of camping, I’ve probably pulled 200 ticks of me. But, in only 4 days, I pulled off almost a good 100 (plus, at least 30 from an earlier trip to Nebraska this spring). Why so many? Warm winter. The mild winter allowed an inordinate number of ticks to survive. This gave them more time to, shall we say, get biz-ay. And now, these creatures are hungry—fightin’ to bite.
In my prediction, it’s the first of many “seemingly small changes” that rear their ugly heads, as drastic shifts in our weather systems will continue to negatively impact our world… Is it too late to reverse? Tick, tock…tick, tock…tick…tick…