Tick Talk

Deer Tick. Photo by Scott Bauer, image released by the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

This has been an especially bad year for ticks. Well, from the tick’s point of view, this would be regarded as an especially good year for ticks, but for humans and dogs it has been a constant nuisance.

As if we did not have enough worries with the COVID-19 pandemic, we also have to avoid being bitten by a deer tick and contracting Lyme disease. This is a serious health threat; over the past 10 or 12 years, both my wife and one of my grandsons have been infected with Lyme disease, and it is a nasty malady.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne (parasite-carried) illness in the United States, transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected deer tick, also known as a blacklegged tick. It is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, and symptoms can include fever, headache, fatigue, and skin rash. In most cases, it can be treated with a few weeks’ course of antibiotics, but the infection can potentially spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system, causing horrible health problems.

After the fifth or sixth time I came home from a morning walk with my dog Abbey this April and May and discovered a tick or ticks wandering around on my person seeking closer attachment, I designated this the Year of the Tick. Yes, I an aware that the 12 years of the cyclical Chinese Zodiac are represented by the signs of the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. But I am creating a North Country Zodiac, and it includes the Sign of the Tick. And this is definitely the Tick’s year.

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Musical Scopes

Remember first grade and the vicious, competitive game called Musical Chairs?

The rules of the game: children marched to martial music in a circle around an array of chairs, and when the music stopped they had to scramble to find a seat. The catch was that there was one less chair than children, so someone was denied a seat and was eliminated.

The music started again, one chair was taken away, and the children marched until the music stopped, one child was denied a seat, and was eliminated. On the game went until only two children competed for one chair, and whoever claimed it was declared the winner.

It was our introduction to capitalism, I think. An instructive example of how the system works, that there could be only one winner, everyone else was a loser, and you had to fight for your share of the capital – the ultimate chair. (Sometimes actual fistfights broke out among the boys, and that was seen as a healthy, spirited outcome.)

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Trail cameras, grounds blinds, and ladder stands

The frame of the first ground blind is tucked into the red cedar trees of my shelter belt, All that’s missing is branches and sticks woven into the wires for camouflage.

Logging. That was the problem. And all those skidder roads the loggers had cleared through the woods.

Those were the obvious excuses for my dismal hunting results during last year’s deer seasons. We had our woodlands selectively logged, about 45 walnut trees plus some ash and red oak. The log skidder opened new trails for deer to make their way through the east, south, and west wooded tracts of the farm. As a consequence, my six ladder stands were placed in the wrong trees, perched over trails that were no longer the main thoroughfares for deer traffic.

Those same trails had been used unfailingly by deer for thirty-plus years, so I assumed there was no reason to move the ladder stands. Things wouldn’t change that much. There was no need to set up any trail cameras or do any preseason scouting. I could hunt from those stands the same as any other year.


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Substantial Gus

Gus is large. The largest dog ever to visit our home. I have given him a nickname: Substantial Gus.

A cross-bred mix of German shepherd and Collie, Gus weighs seventy-five pounds. He is not quick or agile, but he does have stability. A substantial presence. If Gus does not choose to move his substantial self, it is wise to step around his chosen resting place, even if it requires a lively fandango dance.

Last night I forgot to fandango, or even waltz, and went sprawling.

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Spiritual journey


From a historical perspective, the spiritual journey is always tragic, for it is a lonely path fit only for individuals rather than for entire societies.
– Yuval Noah Harrari from his book Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow

Spiritual journey

Rivers and streams of the North Country are at the crest of spring’s snowmelt flood, the surging current carrying along flotsam and jetsam of a harsh winter in an inexorable rush toward the channels and marshes of the Mississippi. Trees uprooted from riverbanks, a collapsed farm building swept away by floodwaters, a cow that did not survive February’s blizzard, corn stumps planted in a washed-out waterway, deck planking from a boat dock, the no-longer-graceful fox, a rubber boot, a tangle of barbed wire on a wooden post, two battered and lashed together gasoline cans, a mud-caked jacket, the skull of a whitetail deer with a patch of hide still attached, churning lumps of clay soil and sand, and the invisible pollution of sewage and agricultural chemicals  — carried along by the force of the torrent.

All going with the flow. Hurrying downstream to a fated destination in a stagnant backwater.

Walking across an iron truss bridge that spans a tributary creek I see a solitary fisher working his way upstream, carefully setting his feet and using his wading staff to brace himself in the current that wants to sweep him away and send him whirling and tumbling along its rushing course. With a lightweight flyrod he casts a trout fly and lets it drift past him, through a swirl and a rippling pool, over a moss-covered stone, beneath an undercut bank. Then he strips in some line and with a turn and a flip lifts it off the surface of the water to cast once again upstream. I watch him make half a dozen casts, each one carefully and accurately placed to float across the places where a trout may be lazily lurking, waiting for a flood borne insect, a tadpole, a minnow, a crayfish.

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Building a box

Wooden boxIt was not my intention to write a COVID-19 pandemic story, but all stories are pandemic stories now. Every story is told in the shadow of the coronavirus.

We all live with apprehension, unease, a foreboding that something will happen but we do not know what it will be. Most of all, we worry about family and friends. And there is nothing we can do to control the madly careening direction our lives are taking. Nothing.

So I built a box.

A small box. A box vaguely intended to serve as a humidor for cigars, although this box may never be used for that purpose. Mostly, I needed to do something — anything — practical and constructive. Something positive. Something productive.

I have built several boxes, always from scrap lumber. Handles and old rusted hinges from a screen door, sometimes with a coat of paint, sometimes not. A few of these boxes have had an actual purpose. Storage for work gloves or tire chains, that sort of thing. But for the most part these boxes clutter the garage, getting underfoot, unused, until they become a nuisance and are thrown out with warped faces, split corners, broken lids.

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Online cigars

Did you know that you can order cigars online? That seems obvious, of course, but it never occurred to me. I was under the misapprehension that tobacco products had to be purchased over the counter where a proof-of-age verification was required.

Nope. Turns out you can buy virtually anything online: whiskey, cigars, fireworks, and even a lap dance according to an article in The New York Times. I’m not sure how that works. Somehow connected to 3D printing, I suppose.

Anyway, during these weeks of the coronavirus pandemic my stock of hand-rolled cigars became precariously low, dwindling to a half dozen. Although I smoke no more than one in the course of a week or 10 days, usually when I need inspiration while I am writing, I did not foresee the onset of my cigar shortage that would be caused by social distancing, shelter in place orders, and self-isolation. All too soon I was down to one: a Te Amo Robusto that I had hoped to save for a special occasion, such as the much-delayed start of the baseball season.

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