Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #72 – “Itchin’ Like a Man on a Fuzzy Tree”

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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

I’m covered with bites today and, as Elvis put it so well, “itchin’ like a man on a fuzzy tree.” Which means I’m ready to rant about one of the most maddening aspects of living in Paradise.

Ticks!

Wherever you find beautiful greenery you also are sure to find Earth’s most obnoxious little bloodsuckers.

Step outside on a beautiful summer day, and the odds are good you’ll step back in with a tick somewhere on—or in—your clothes.

Over the years I’ve learned how to deal with chiggers. Stay out of the woods. Wear boots and long pants and tuck your pants inside your boots. Keep moving. Deet up.

Ticks, however, are another story. Pick up a rake and presto! There’s a tick crawling up your arm.
Walk past a shed and wham! That’s a tick fastening itself to your neck.

Trim a tree branch and pow! That ain’t no aphid clinging to your leg.

I can Deet myself to death and still find a little bump in an inappropriate place, scratch at it…and splatter myself with my own blood, courtesy of one fat, well-fed tick mom.

I remember as a child plucking off a tick and continuing on my merry way. What I don’t remember is the welt the size of my mountaintop and the Big Itch afterward that I feel now. Have ticks mutated into something far more powerful than before?

In Paradise, common wisdom says there are two ways to beat the ticks.

The first way is to move to the city and spend your life on concrete and asphalt, insulated from nature’s miserable little sucks. Since my neighbors and I are all about living where we can touch and smell and listen to the land, that’s not an option.

The second way is to spray all around with the strongest possible poison. But that’s got a downside too. Everyone’s livestock would pay a high price for grazing on chemical-soaked grass.

Yesterday, as I pondered and scratched, Brannigan the Contractor came by to ratchet up our sagging back deck. After a couple of sweaty hours he came inside to take Gwen the Beautiful up on her offer of sweet tea.

After pulling up a chair, he noticed a two foot long feather on my desk. Brannigan eyed it curiously. “What’re you doing with this?”

“Admiring it,” I said. You don’t see an eagle feather every day.”

Brannigan snorted. “Eagle feather?! No way! It’s from a turkey vulture. Eagles are noble. They hunt just like real men. But vultures? They’re the lowest form of bird life there is. Good for nothing but stripping roadkill!”

After Brannigan left I picked up the feather. When I’d thought it was an eagle feather I’d seen it as beautiful. A prize. But now?

Now I felt like a jerk.

Which got me to wondering. Why value eagles over vultures? Is killing food automatically a “better” thing to do than eating what’s already dead? Wouldn’t it be easy to argue exactly the reverse?

I called Johnny Lee, Deputy Game Warden at Paradise County Fish and Game. Asked him what he knew about vultures.

“Vultures are awesome,” he said. “I’d want to be one if I was a bird.”

This was a surprise. I asked Johnny Lee one question. “Why?”

“They’re the ultimate team players. They know how to make everything around them work for them. They’re not made for hunting so they depend on others to kill. When the hunters are finished, the vultures eat what otherwise would rot and be wasted.

“And they share it with other animals. Everything in the woods knows where to go for supper when they see vultures circling around.

“They’re great flyers too. Most efficient gliders of any bird, and they’re just about the healthiest. They’ve got special bacteria that knock out most disease.”

Which, believe it or not, brings me back to ticks and the itch I’m still scratching. Vultures are in tune with the world, and they’re big on sharing, right?

Well then, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m taking that big feather outside and waving it at the next turkey vulture I see overhead. And I’m asking it the Question of the Hour:

“How can I get along with ticks? How can I get something good out of them? What should I do?”

And I promise that when that vulture tells me, Brannigan the Contractor will be the first to know.