Yes, it’s that time again. Winter is finally over, Ice Season is melting into slushy, gritty memories, and we’re moving into that other half of the year: Tick season.
Here in the Ozarks, tick season runs from about the first week in April through the end of December, with occasional outbreaks in January, February, and March. By mid-May roving hordes of the little monsters will be moving through the underbrush like piranhas with legs, armored specks of concentrated evil seeking whom they may devour.
We’re all becoming pretty current on the latest tick-borne diseases in humans, and the toll on pets is equally terrifying. Repellants, foggers and sprays fill the air like morning mist; gatherings of the beautiful people are aromatic with eau de permethrin, and the rest of us bathe in Deet as if were Chanel No. 5.
“The Tower of Babel” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563) — We used to think it was a good idea to understand each other.
I often read novels by Latin-American authors in the original Spanish.
I know, I know: at least part of the reason for doing it is just to be able to make statements like that — we all carve out these nuggets of self-esteem where we can find them — but the fact remains that some stars really do shine brighter in the universes that gave them birth.
They’re not pretty, they’re not useful, and they outnumber us.
I like to consider myself tolerant of other living things, even those I find a bit unpleasant, like houseflies and pomeranians, but there are limits to my generosity. Ticks fall somewhere on the far side of those limits.
Ticks are arachnids, related to mites (and very distantly to my friends, the spiders). There are actually three distinct families of ticks, but only one, the “hard ticks” or Ixodidae (from a Greek word meaning “sticky”), feed on humans and their animals.
Today it was a peaceful stroll; tonight it’s a wind tunnel.
The wind is rushing around outside like — well, think of your favorite simile: the ocean; a herd of buffalo; a horde of flying monkeys.
Many of the trees around here are almost fully leafed out, so tonight they’re all tuned up for the wind to play; meanwhile the dying hackberry tree (badly burned two years ago) at the eastern end of the cabin is groaning and creaking like an arthritic ogre, adding to the ruckus. Twice tonight I’ve heard what I thought sounded like a freight train and panicked, trying to figure out how to lure Rusty and Sebastian into the basement before it was too late, only to realize that it really wasa freight train, carrying a load of gravel through the tunnel that runs for about a quarter-mile under this mountain.
The Red Paper Wasp, Polistes something-or-other, eating nectar from my Blackbird Euphorbias.
The wasps and spiders have begun gathering on my porch, a sure sign that winter is well and truly over.
The numbers this year are somewhat unimpressive: last spring there were hundreds of wasps from three different species gathering under the eaves, while this year I’ve seen only a few, all of them Red Paper Wasps.
Without the people, a house is just sticks and mud.
I suppose anyone who has ever spent part of his or her childhood anywhere in rural America has heard the story of Cry Baby Hollow.
I’ve heard the story several times, in several different places. Although in one case, the teller was from Mississippi and placed the tale in a bayou instead of a wooded ravine, the fundamentals are otherwise almost always the same: at some point in the indeterminate past, a young couple sets up housekeeping in a remote forest glade (or swamp hammock), and in the fullness of time the young woman has a child. The household basks for a while in the glow of pioneer Americana, brave, hard-working and happy. All too soon, however, usually within three or four years, some sort of disaster strikes and the parents are killed; in most versions I believe the mother is stricken ill and the father rushes off into the night for help, only to be killed in an accident en route, leaving the mother to die with no one by her side but the toddler. The child remains there, living off whatever he or she can find to eat in the cabin, until finally starving to death.
There have been geese flying over my cabin late at night for about a week; headed back to Canada, I suppose.
For most people who live in areas frequented by flocks of geese, the birds are about as exciting as chickens; in many cities they may even be viewed as serious pests, especially around airfields and parks, where they can be aggressive and very, very messy. For me, the romance hasn’t quite worn off yet. In the places I’ve spent most of my life — northern Alabama, South Florida, Dallas — geese are pretty rare, and here in northwest Arkansas I still slow down to gawk when I see a flock of them nibbling their way across a field, like strange, alien cattle.