Thursday, November 03, 2005

Nature Red In Tooth And Claw

Yesterday, I hiked nine miles, half of that up an actual mountain.

I also got my first tick bite.

Oh, and Ursula is back.

Other than that, it’s been quiet.

Monday morning, the woman who had adopted Ursula found me at Daughter’s school. Turns out, their dog, who was supposed to be thrilled to have a new canine companion, didn’t feel quite up for having a sibling who wanted to play incessantly and sleep curled-up right next to her. After a week of threats and feints, the two dogs had come to blows over a bone and Ursula’s third loving mother in three months realized it wasn’t going to work. I asked for a reprieve until Wednesday morning, when Ursula could join me on a training hike for my planned assault on Mount Whitney.

Wednesday morning, Ursula arrived at school with her crate, three new chew toys, a huge bag of food and the pleasant expression of someone who no longer attempts to understand what’s going on. Her former family gave her big hugs and kisses. We transferred her back to my car for Life with Quinn, Version 3.0.

Jill, my hiking partner, and I decided to try our first big hike. We chose a local mountain with a three thousand-foot elevation gain over four and a half miles. Total distance: nine miles. This is a long, steep march. It’s less than half the hike of Whitney, but it’s a start.

As we made our way up the mountain, I stayed anywhere from five to twenty yards ahead of Jill. This had nothing to do with fitness. It had to do with Ursula, who functioned as my personal ski-tow. Also, because Jill has hiked for many years and has a brain in her head, she carried a well-provisioned backpack, adding many pounds. Because I am hugely stupid about nature, I brought not so much as a stick of gum. If I were to climb Everest I’d bring an extra pair of shorts. Maybe.

We were about halfway up the mountain when Jill said, “That’s the fifth tick I’ve found on my shirt.”

Something in my brain froze in horror. If I had been able to jump on a table, hold up my skirts and shriek like a flapper, I would have. I never much liked ticks, what with them being blood-sucking and bristling with disease and all. But last month, Daughter’s class had a field trip to a nature center, where the highlight was an interactive exhibit titled something like: “What To Do When a Tick Is Hanging From Your Eyelid”. During this field trip, I learned the only safe way to remove a tick is by grasping it with a tweezers and pulling in a counterclockwise direction. Gently yet firmly. Any other form of removal can cause the tick to vomit into your bloodstream.

It’s hard to think “Whee!” when confronted with several miles of tick vomit in front of you.

“What…does a tick look like?” I said, attempting a casual tone.

Jill leaned towards me and picked something black and struggling off my tee shirt.

“This,” she said.

My shirt was a bright orange. It immediately occurred to me that a black tick might be somewhat hard to find on my black workout pants. And that a tick could walk, unnoticed, down my pants and leap on to my sock. And from there it’s but a hop, skip and pestilence-ridden jump to my femoral artery.

I tucked my black leggings into my white socks. I tucked my tangerine shirt into my black leggings which I hiked up to my waistline. I was the white-chick Urkel. And so began a new phase of our training:

1. Walk ten paces while obsessively slapping hands up and down legs.

2. Stop and thoroughly check seal between socks and leggings.

3. Stand up again and run fingers furiously through hair.

Having tick-based OCD really adds to your travel time. And we haven’t even gotten to Ursula yet. During one of my sock examinations, I glanced over at her fur. It was fairly undulating with ticks. So, now between Sock Check and Adventures in My Hair, I had to flap my hands ineffectually at the dog, who managed to appear both cheerful and puzzled.

Somehow, we made it to the top, and the view was truly dazzling. This mountain is the highest in the city, which is nothing more than a fact that might win you a drink at a trivia bar until you are sitting at the top, signing the register and looking down on hills you have always thought of as being fairly tall, until now. I leaned against a rock and watched Ursula lapping water from a makeshift water bowl Jill created out of a plastic bag. It was warm in the sun so I reflexively pulled my shirt away from my collarbone to cool off when, under my finger, I felt a tiny bump.

I glanced down at my clavicle. There, digging in with what looked like pure joyful abandon, was a tick. And this is where you find out who your real friends are.

“TICK!” I shrieked.

Jill quickly grabbed a first-aid kit from her backpack and removed a tiny set of tweezers. She leaned over my shoulder murmuring “...counterclockwise... ...counterclockwise...”. Thankfully, she had seen the same tick exhibit. I stared away from my skin and down at Los Angeles. I tried to think about Johnny Depp in “Chocolat”, but it was hard to stay on that when I could feel the tick squirming and Jill tugging and twisting, all the while saying things like, “Get out of there, you stubborn son of a…”

With a small but definite “Pop”, I was no longer a…host. Jill and I stared at the little intruder, legs waving.

“I don’t think it’s engorged,” Julie said.

“So it hadn’t starting drinking me yet. Disease-wise, that’s good, right?”

“I guess.”

The unspoken thought was: ...Unless, of course, it still managed to vomit everything it’s ever eaten into my bloodstream…!

We stared at it. It wriggled. It looked annoyed, if something that small can be said to look annoyed. Of course, if someone tweezered me away from a restaurant just as the bread basket arrived, I’d be pretty salty, too. We squished the tick, and I took advantage of the tweezers being surgically compromised to remove some ticks from Ursula -- the most bloated of which where in her most nether of nether regions. Jill held down her front paws, I counterclockwised a few invaders off her rear end, and Ursula alternately whined and licked the elbow of anyone she could reach.

It took us three and a half hours to hike four-and-a-half miles uphill. It took us an hour to trot four-and-a-half miles downhill. This says something about gravity and momentum but it also says something about my belief that a tick can’t hit a moving target. For future reference, I can do a full-body tick inspection without slowing down from a brisk jog. We got back to our cars and did one final once-over (I think I looked at my ankles more in those four hours than I have in all of my previous life). I thanked Jill profusely for carrying useful things like water and tweezers, and promised never to burden her in quite that way again.

I threw Ursula and myself into the car. The dog that had pulled me up the first half of the trip was so tired she fell asleep before we left the parking lot. On the main road back to the highway, the sound of a big dog barking frantically in the car next to us only brought an ear flick and a sigh.


So, here are my plans for the upcoming weeks:

- Get in several more hikes, but only in operating rooms, microchip assembly plants or morgues. I’ll power-walk around an autopsy before I go chumming for ticks again.

- Give myself a pedicure using Chanel Vamp, the only color which covers bruised toenails.

- Wake up an hour early every morning so I can comb every available Lyme disease website. Long after I’ve stopped checking Ursula, the car and my shoes for ticks, I will lie in bed at night obsessing over whether I’m experiencing normal forgetfulness or Lyme disease-based forgetfulness.

Some athletes go for the burn. I go for the brain decay.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoy reading your stories. :-)

You are lucky you had a knowledgeable friend with you. And that you guys knew what to do!

When I was young, we were visiting a relative in Iowa. I got a tick in my hair from playing with my aunt's dogs. I have thick hair, so my mom didn't discover it until she was giving me a bath sometime later. The thing was huge. My mom didn't know what to do (we don't have many ticks where I grew up in Wyoming), so she panicked and just pulled it out. The contaminated blood went back into my head, and I just remember feeling really sick for a couple days. I had the chills, was achy and just plain miserable.

When we visited Siloam Springs, Arkansas, a couple years back we would have to walk our dogs in this field behind our brother-in-law's apartment. We would be out there just a couple minutes and the dogs would be crawling with ticks. We were pulling those buggers off of them for days, and they are just little dachshunds so they don't have a lot of surface area. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

6:54 AM  
Blogger Joie de Vivre said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Joie de Vivre said...

The good news is, if you can see 'em, they're unlikely to be deer ticks, the kind which carries Lymes disease. Deer ticks are tiny, tiny; you'd think you were looking at a new mole or freckle if they didn't wriggle and give themselves away! Aside from being downright grody and a source of infection if they "vomit" into you, I'd say your chances of contracting Lymes is very slim from the ticks you found. Especially in California.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Melodee said...

But is your daughter delirious that Ursula is back?

The very idea of a tick makes me shudder. I am pretty sure it's against the law for them to cross the border into our state. ;)

1:38 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Tics are creepy. Just the thought of tics make me do that "oh my god there's a bug somewhere on my person so I'm going to jump around and convulse waving my arms like crazy because that's obviously the best way to get it off" dance.


I too was curious about Daughter's reaction to having Ursula back. Do you intend to keep her now, or are you still trying to find a home?

Finally, I thought I would share this with you. It's by far the most disturbing thing I've seen in awhile. Note especially that the gun is pink.

It's just one in a whole gallery of posters along the same lines. That link is here:

I'm beyond words.

10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds dorky, but have you considered checking into "dog day care"? A friend of mine has a very energetic and friendly dog, who is lonely and bored when no one else is home. She started taking him to day care, where he gets to play with other dogs and run around all day. He loves it, and by the end of the day he's completely wiped out.

3:25 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have more friends than I care to admit who use doggy dog care. For the right dog and the right situation, nothing beats it for socializing and general exhaustion.

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quinn -

I caught Lymes in Wisconsin this summer and my fever spiked to 104.4. It seems at age 42, a fever this high can cause hallucinations. Imagine my surprise when I opened my freezer and was greeted with little tiny members of The Sopranos cast. I was diagnosed early and after 28 days on Doxycycline, I remain symptom free. I Googled it to death though.

Love your blog!


12:09 PM  

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