Biff America: Fear the meek
West Tisbury, Massachusetts, 2 a.m.
‘‘Why are you hovering over my bed like you’re a damn ax-murder? It’s after midnight. And for God’s sake, put your pajamas back on, my parents are in the next room.’”
Normally I’d be willing to take my wife’s “no” for an answer. And certainly, I understand the reluctance to wake her resting parents to satisfy my needs. But there was no way I would be able to sleep in my current state.
I flicked on my flashlight and shined it on myself. “I’m serious Ellie,” I said. “I won’t be able to sleep until you check me for ticks.“
The mountains of the West can be a scary place. I have detoured on mountain bike rides, ski tours and hikes to give moose, elk and bears a wide berth. In South Dakota, Ellie and I waited for 20 minutes for a herd of buffalo to pass so we could continue our road bike ride. This was about 20 miles after a park ranger advised us to be careful.
While hiking in central California, we’ve had to be careful to avoid stepping on rattlesnakes. In the deserts of Arizona, I always remember to shake my shoes before slipping them on, in case scorpions have taken up residence.
For the most part, Martha’s Vineyard, where my mate’s parents live part time, is much more civilized and less dangerous. Though I have suffered a tongue lashing by Ellie’s sister when I tried to teach her daughter how to pick locks, and some serious stink eye for wearing cowboy boots to a clam bake. But, for the most part, the “Vineyard” is fairly genteel.
But, as Matthew attests in Psalms about the meek inheriting the earth, size is not always indicative of danger. I can take reptiles, moose, lions, tigers and bears in stride, but the lowly deer tick keeps me up at night.
I’m not afraid of losing a little plasma to blood-sucking bugs, but the tick can take your blood and leave in its place bacteria that cause Lyme disease. At best, Lyme disease can be a serious inconvenience, at worst, a life-changing condition. Now to be clear, a simple tick bite seldom leads to anything more than a small loss of blood. It is only when the beast is allowed to dine for a few days that the poison can percolate. So you’re OK if you find the tick and remove it fairly soon.
The locals here have an attitude that is both proactive and reactive. If working or recreating in or around flora, fauna or tall grasses, they cover up and later they scrutinize themselves to pick off any of the meek that might have hitched a ride on their ankles to begin a journey north to their hairy places.
My approach is multipronged. I use the proactive and reactive steps, with an added cocktail of fear and paranoia mixed with a smattering of neurosis.
We will go for a bike ride, hike or kayak and return home. The first thing I’ll do is take off my clothing and get in the outdoor shower to do a cursory tick check. Then upon drying, I check again. The problem is that there are certain parts of my body I cannot see. For those hard to view areas I stand on a footstool naked in front of the bathroom mirror, using my cellphone camera to look over my shoulder at the mirror behind me. Yesterday, I forgot to lock the door, causing my mother-in-law to wish her daughter had married a normal person.
That would suffice for those less neurotic, but for me, every itch or tickle becomes a source of concern which I must immediately investigate. Unfortunately, this often occurs when I wake up in the early morning with an unidentified tickle. Standing on a foot stool in front of a mirror does not provide resolution to distinguish a bug from a freckle. That’s when I need my mate to provide a second opinion.
“Sorry to wake you, but do you see a tick on my back?” I sat on the bed facing away and handed her my flashlight.
“Jeez,” she said. “Between, the freckles, scars and sun damage, your back looks like a Dalmatian. How am I supposed to see a tick?”
”Look between the liver mark and the barnacle, where there’s a little speck.” I felt her pinch something, I turned around. “What is it?” She answered, ”It’s not a bug. It looks like a sesame seed.”
I was awake for another hour wondering how that seed got there.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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