Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #24 – ‘Chiggers!’

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THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

And now, as summer nears the finish line, a word about something close to all our hearts—and ankles and the backs of our knees, and, of course, our waists:

Chiggers!

Or to put it another way:

Aargh!”

For most of my life, spring was a glorious time. New hope, rebirth, the beautiful transition into summer. You know the drill. Then I moved to the Ozarks, and on one fateful May day I made a mistake that changed my whole outlook.

I went outside wearing shoes but no socks. Walked maybe twenty feet to pick up some trash, then another twenty feet back to the house. Three days later I was in agony.

Aargh!” indeed.

I’d lived in California so long I’d forgotten about the chiggers and the way they get your immune system churning.

I’d forgotten that in the South, wherever you’ve got grass you’ve got these greedy, skin-burrowing, one-twentieth of an inch long freakazoids just waiting to do their version of the Count Dracula thing.

I’d forgotten that anything could itch so much.

When I was kid I thought it would be cool to become a vampire. Look at the powers it gives you. Super strength. Mind control. The ability to become a wolf or a bat. To fly.

And, maybe best of all when you’re an awkward adolescent with a face full of what my mother used to call “blossoms,” as a vampire you never have to see your reflection.

But if being chomped on by Dracula makes you feel only one-tenth as bad as being feasted upon by a chigger—forget it, Count. Not worth it. No way.

If my first chigger experience had been the only one that still would’ve been one too many for me. For three weeks I was up all night, clawing at my ankles. What started out as tiny reddish bumps turned into bloody sores, then into scabs that lasted another couple of months, finally becoming scars I still bear.

Scars joined later by others to forever remind me of the fact that we humans are far from being the absolute rulers of this part of the earth.

Dominant species? Ha! We’re just another environment for the bugs. The only difference between trees and people is that trees have to wait to be infested but we can pick up microscopic hitchhikers as we mosey along.

My chigger-phobia is so strong it’s ruined many a movie for me. The only emotion a scene with a romantic couple picnicking on the grass instills in me is terror.

It’s all I can do to keep from screaming at the screen. “No! Don’t sit there! Run away!”

Over the years I’ve done just about everything to keep the remorseless mites away. I’ve learned to suit up when I go outside, wearing high boots, thick socks, long pants tucked into the boots, long sleeves, and, if I’m going to touch anything, gloves.

I’ve learned to spray myself with Deet. To keep the grass in our clearing short and give brush a wide berth. And to keep especially clear of wild blackberry bushes, which seem to be a favorite hideaway for Count Chiggula and his gang.

I’ve picked up on some remedies too. When I lived in the city I took a shower every morning, part of my ritual for greeting the new day. Now, in summer I shower right before dinner instead, lathering up so I can drown anything that’s burrowed in while I was out.

And I follow the shower by wiping myself down with bleach, which, according to Wanda Fincher, the Angel of Arkansas, (and former Army nurse), “gets in your pores and kills the little suckers on contact.” Who could ask for anything more?

What I’m getting at is this. Once upon a time spring was my favorite season because it made me look forward so much to what was coming next. Now, though, after another itchy, scratchy summer I’m heavily into a love affair with fall.

Last night it was a little nippy here on the mountain. The wind has shifted. The leaves are starting to turn. Fall is in the air, and I find myself grinning in anticipation of chigger hibernation.

Eagerly, I await the time—only a couple of weeks away—when I can pick up trash without worrying about socks and boots. When I can walk barefoot from our front door to our truck. When I can feel fearless again!

No more “Aargh!”

Until next year.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #23 – ‘The Big Red Chow Dude’

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THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

The Big Red Chow Dude came by the other day to set a spell, catch up on the latest news, and let us know what’s up with him.

In the usual course of things, the Dude is a magnificent animal. Depending on the lighting, he can look as much like a red bear or wolf as he does a dog and is a legend in these parts for his ability to shape-change as well as his command of the forest.

The Dude’s been wild as long as we’ve known him, the expert’s expert in all the in and outs of country dog life. He stays away from vehicles and livestock. Doesn’t chase chickens or ducks.

Emmy our Pit Bull fell head over heels when she first saw him strutting up our back trail three years ago, and he did the same.

Nothing could get that boy off the property. Not yelling. Not squirting. Not rocks. He wanted Emmy as badly as she wanted him, and finally, when our backs were turned, they consummated their love.

The Dude stayed with Emmy and their puppies for a year and a half. For six months no human could get near him, but eventually we all won each other over.

The Dude wouldn’t play with the pups, but he was there to protect them, to stay between his kids and the trees. It wasn’t until he’d taught them everything he knew that he went back into the woods.

Over the past year the Dude has gotten onto a schedule where he visits every couple of weeks. Our wandering son-in-law. This latest time around, the Dude’s coat was matted and he was listless and dull.

Instead of taking his usual place at the highest point in our clearing he slunk up to the front porch and hid behind the swing. He wouldn’t eat or let anybody open his mouth, and his breath smelled worse than a compost heap.

The Dude needed serious medical attention. It was time to take him to the vet. He was fine when I put the leash on him, but instead of hopping into the truck he dug his claws into the ground.

“No!” he growled. “Not the truck! That’s how they I got here. They drove me to the woods. They pushed me out onto the road and squealed away!”

I looked into his dark eyes. “You weren’t always wild?”

“I had a boy once,” the Dude said. “Tall. Kinda gangly. I loved him. I thought he loved me.”

“I won’t abandon you, Dude. Leave these woods in this truck and you’ll come back in it too. Everything’ll be the same.”

The Dude let me pick him up and put him on the seat. We drove to the vet in Flippin, where Dr. Sara Bailey found the problem.

“See?” she said, pointing to the roof of his mouth. “He’s got a stick caught in there.”

And so he did. About an inch thick and four inches long, jammed deep into the Dude’s gums just behind his canine teeth. Blood caked around it.

After a struggle that ended only after Dr. Bailey had sedated him, the stick that eventually would’ve killed the Dude was gone. That’s when the Good Doctor saw another problem.

“He’s not fixed,” she said. “We can take care of that while he’s out.”

I looked at the sleeping Dude. And I knew that this was one of those times when you just can’t do what you should.

“We don’t own this dog,” I said. “He’s not just some pet. Neutering him may be the best idea in the world, but we don’t have the right to do it like this. That would be violating his trust.”

I took the Dude home, and in an hour he was eating like there was no tomorrow and acting like himself again. Prancing to his place at the high spot in the clearing.

He stayed the night, and the next morning I told him what Dr. Bailey wanted to do. The Dude sniffed the air. “Only one way a man can answer that,” he said.

He nuzzled my hand, and bounded to his feet. “Tell everybody I’ll see ‘em soon,” the Dude said. “Thanks for being such a good buddy and watching my—“ he paused and I swear I heard an “Ahem”—“back.”

And, laughing, the King of the Forest strutted back into his domain.