A Yankee Notebook, Columns

Yep, it’s coming

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by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – It doesn’t take a genius to spot the irresistible threat headed our way from the southwestern United States. Serious changes (along with smoke from forest fires) are in the air. I’m predicting a second wave of immigration and real estate inflation, now that the COVID-related mania seems to be behind us. This second wave will be driven by folks who can afford to flee cities increasingly threatened by rising sea water and electrical grids unable to meet the growing demand for air-conditioning. Yep, it’s coming.

But for those of us who live in these delightful and coveted hinterlands there’s another threat to our pleasant lives here. Unlike increasingly violent storms, warmer winters, early budding plants, and blistering summer temperatures, this one has been here all along. It’s just that till now it hasn’t been so noticeable or so dangerous. Actually, it’s a “they”: the various species of sylvan parasites called ticks. They’re proliferating and thriving here primarily because of our ever-warmer winters.

Ticks used to be fairly rare in this neck of the woods. I remember that in our summer boys’ camp in the 1940s, only once in each two-week session, after a hike to a nearby line of limestone cliffs, did we have to disrobe, wash our clothes, and check each other for the bloody little hitchhikers. The remedy of choice in those days was a smoldering cigarette butt; most counselors could produce one.

The difference between our body-searches and similar operations nowadays is mainly that, while ours then were driven mostly by revulsion (the sight of an engorged tick clinging to an armpit or innie navel can really command attention), contemporary ticks are likely to be infected with various debilitating and often dangerous diseases. Lyme Disease is the most common around here. It can take some weeks of misery, aches, and pains before the sufferer gets tested. If the disease isn’t too far advanced, a regimen of relatively inexpensive antibiotic knocks it down.

My son tells me darkly, “You really don’t want to get Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.” He’s right. I looked it up. It can lead even to paralysis and amputation. I think he picked it up in his many mountain-biking outings in Arkansas. Luckily, he beat it.

Ticks pass these diseases to their hosts in their saliva. The transmission isn’t instant; it can take many hours. This is why it’s important to nab the critters either before they’ve found a spot to settle or very shortly afterward. Some of my friends assume that after a walk through woods or a round of golf (especially if they’ve spent some time in the rough) they need to go through the routine: clothes off just inside the door and into the dryer in at least moderate heat; body into the bathroom for a soapy hot shower, scrubbing any spots that may be attractive hiding places.

Dog ticks – the most common around here – are surprisingly speedy and hard to kill. Sometimes you can hardly set them down because they keep climbing up your fingers. You need to operate over a white countertop or sink so you don’t lose track of ’em. Then afterward for hours, every twinge or itch – and those’ll suddenly be epidemic – is another tick for sure, and you can’t possibly resist checking it out.

Kiki, my hairy little pal, brings them home with her. But she takes a pill to either kill or repel them (I can’t tell which), and after a while they drop off. Trouble is, we live in such intimate proximity that they often land on me, and I feel them scrambling around in whatever body hair I have. They tend to climb upward; so it’s important to check the end of the line, as it were: groin, navel, armpits, and head.

We all share a natural revulsion for blood-suckers: mosquitoes, black flies, leeches, vampire bats (not to mention actual vampires), deer flies; and that demon straight from Hell, the moose fly, or Labrador bulldog, that you’ll swear can remove chunks of your flesh before it even lands. It looks as though ticks are here to stay, and we’re just going to have to adapt our routines to their presence.

There is some good news on the horizon. A vaccine for Lyme Disease is in the works. Big deal. What I’m after is a pill that human beings can take that’ll do for us what Kiki’s monthly pill does for her. I asked the vet if taking one of hers would work for me. She thought yes, but pointed out that the dog’s pill was rated for the dog’s size. I’d have to take 11 of them to achieve the same effect. That would come to about $320 a month. I think I’ll stick with the clothes dryer and the soapy shower.

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