By Mary Lowengard
SPRING IS HERE—or, as Tom Lehrer put it, “A-suh-puh-ring is here”—and the buzz over bugs in Bucknoll is yet again about ticks. These tiny buggers have significantly disrupted lives throughout grassy, tree-lined communities in the Eastern United States, and it’s impossible to be agnostick about them.
I don’t mean to boast, but I know a thing or two about ixodes scapularis. I grew up 45 miles northwest of Old Lyme, Connecticut, and spent my childhood through young adult summers on Nantucket, all that time ignorant of any place called Bucknoll Hills.
According to CDC statisticks, Pennsylvania is presently the #1 hotspot for Lyme Disease in the country, accounting for a full 33 percent of confirmed cases in 2018. The number of “probable” plus the number of confirmed in the state that year? 10,208.
Unlike fruit flies, a well-fed tick can live up to two years, which is approximately as long as the Amazon Prime series “The Tick” lasted. The show was pretty pathetick anyway.
The primary vector for Lyme is what we used to call a “deer tick” but was at some point rechristened the “blacklegged tick,” and among primitivistick Midwesterners is known as a “bear tick.”
Frankly, I’m with Gertrude Stein on these matters: a tick is a tick is a tick. Though I do feel marginally sympathetick toward Bambi, as it’s really Mickey Mice that are largely responsible for carrying the Lyme pathogen. It has been widely predicted that this year will be the worst ever for ticks, though this has been said every year for at least the last 20. One thing’s for sure: For those who get up close and personal with an opportunistick tick, 2021 will be their worst year ever.
Tick proliferation is the result of a perfect storm of mild winters, a baby boom in the mouse population, and, well, in all modesty, my frequent presence in the state. Where I go, ticks follow. After picking a bunch off myself on returning from a hike to Bullsnake Falls with fellow cottager Dani, she declared me a regular “tick magnet.”
I know well the basics of practickal tick hygiene. Avoid long grasses and dark dogs (Toblerone, my father’s chocolate Lab, was partickularly problematick); don’t even think about doing that thing with a matchstick if you find that one has nestled its tiny head under your skin. Call your doc if the characteristick Target logo appears on your body.
Diplomatick Dealings With Dystopick Tick Didacticks
The uptick in ticks has divided Bucknollers into two schools, the Franticks and the Apatheticks. Before you start mouthing off about how ticked you are with the enthusiastick (if idiotick) tick-obsessed at a dinner hosted by neighboring cottagers, it is advisable to determine if they themselves are entomophobic.
This is readily accomplished diplomatickally by excusing yourself to visit the powder room. If decorative bottles of 100% N-Diethl-metatoluamide, otherwise known as DEET (which I long thought stood for Don’t Eat or Enhale This), and several sets of pointy-nose tweezers, are carefully arranged alongside silver bowls of potpourri, then, yes, they are.
Tick-fanatick Franticks are readily spotted sporting white trousers tucked into white socks atop white sneakers starting in April, with an alarming disregard for the Memorial Day rule. Mention Powassan, that deadly tick-borne virus named after the town in Ontario where it was first identified, and Franticks go totally neurotick.
Pass by their cottages after they’ve just entered from the Great Outdoors and you might be lucky enough to witness the Bucknoll Tick Shtick. This is when Franticks transitioning to the Great Indoors strip to their birthday suits at their thresholds, throw all their clothes into the washing machine set to the highest temperature available, and then scuttle off to the shower for a thorough scrub-down. Thanks to these Franticks, profits at the Bucknoll Water Company have soared.
Exotick Anticks of Local Ticks
The sorry truth is the infinitesimal deer/blackleg/bear tick is not the only dangerous species in Pennsylvania. Of ticks, that is. There are more than 25 known (and, not to get all Socratick about it, who knows how many unknown) types of ticks enjoying the good life in the rustick environs of the Keystone state. The four most prevalent are the deer/blackleg/bear tick (which counts as one), the American dog tick, the groundhog tick and, that unwelcome Texan, the Lone Star tick.
And Lyme is far from the only disease one should be losing sleep over. There’s Tularemia (rabbit fever), babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, tick paralysis and even Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever lurking in them thar Bucknoll Hills. Powassan is a fun word to say, but the truth is that with only 39 cases reported across the state in 2019 it’s nothing to get all nihilistick about. Though it is traumatick if contracted and often asymptomatick.
Returning to the dramatick span of tick attitudes, at the other end of the spectrum are the Apatheticks. This set includes the more realistick and pragmatick members of the community, who are not inclined to worry about something they can’t see. This group includes many (if not all ) of the local Bucknoll workers who are out and about in the brush daily. One says he does little in the way of prevention but advises, “People who are worried ought to be on the pill.” Which has nothing to do with procreation. He means the oral flea and tick medication for canines. Another contractor shrugs and says if you’re worried, he’d be happy to pave your paradise. And put up a parking lot.
Tick Versus Cic(ada)
Buckle your seatbelts, Bucknollers! There’s a new bug coming to town. Just when you think everything’s copacetick, the 17-year-old Brood X cicadas arrive with a whole new set of anticks. Unlike the teeny tick, you can (and will) see these hard-shelled big boys (and girls), even the whites of their big buggy eyes, crawling out in the billions late this spring from their underground lairs.
Like disobedient children, the cicadas will be both seen and heard. And not only are they energetick at making noise, they make a huge mess when they mate (another thing they enjoy), sawing into trees to lay hundreds of eggs at a pop. Then right when you are approaching a psychotick state from lack of sleep, they slip out of their exoskeletons and exit the scene.
All of a sudden, the tiny, silent tick seems almost majestick. Too bad it can kill you.
Mary Lowengard really did own a country cottage once upon a time somewhere in Pennsylvania. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. She is grateful to KW, JM, JAR and Woody, who made these stories possible. To start at the beginning, click here. To read them all, click on either tag under the headline.