Monday, May 30, 2011

Tick days

The ticks came early this year. I watched in horror as they lumbered across the snowy trail in early April, fat and swollen like ripened grapes that have rotted on the vine. My mouth hung open in a silent scream. They must have dropped from the moose whose tracks we were following.

I clutched Murdoch’s leash tighter as we skirted around those alien creatures making their way across the top of a frozen landscape beneath which I was sure they should still be lying dormant. Gagging, skin starting to crawl, I dragged Murdoch down the trail as he worked to inhale every last scent left by the moose. I tried not to panic but all I could think of was this new breed of super-tick that defied the snow, our last defense.

A month and a half later Murdoch and I sit side by side on the edge of the deck, my arm draped across his neck. I comb through the long fur of his chest with my hand then follow the bony ridge along the front of his shoulder blade, twirling his wiry hair around my fingers. I glance sideways at him, see his eyes fluttering half-closed and I give him a quick one-armed hug.

“Good boy Murds,” I say as I shift sideways and run my hands along his shaggy snout, around his eyes and over his cheeks. Then I find it; what I’ve been looking for, a bump. I brush his hair back from the spot to reveal the light brown teardrop shaped body of an already expanding tick. With one hand still smoothing the hair around Murdoch’s ear, I grasp the tick firmly between the thumb and forefinger of my other hand and gently pull.

It comes away with a tiny, tissue-thin, piece of skin. “Good boy,” I say again and tousle the hair on his head as if it is a game. Murdoch jumps to his feet and turns quickly to see what I have done, goes cross-eyed as he sniffs the tick and his skin and a few strands of his hair pinched between my thumb and finger.

“I knew one of you had a tick on your face,” I say as I get up from the deck and walk over to the stones so I can crush the little parasite under a rock.

I spend a lot of time during tick season massaging Bear and Murds around the shoulders, neck and head, administering impromptu belly rubs and smoothing the fur around their ears. They love it. And somehow in all of that I seem to have developed a sixth sense that not only tells me if one, or both, of the dogs have a tick on them but almost exactly where it can be found.

I can deal with the ticks when they’re small and dark brown and shiny, have even made a kind of peace with them as part of life on the edge of the wilderness. It’s the fat ones that turn me inside out.

I didn’t see any more mutant ticks defying the laws of nature since that fateful day in April, but the image of those inflated sickly gray bodies creeping across the white snow flashes through my brain periodically like a scene from a horror movie I can’t get out of my head. And I search my dogs again, a little more carefully.

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