WordPress recently added a service called Plinky that provides you with daily writing prompts. This is the first one I’ve written an answer for – when I saw the question “What’s the best advice you ever received?” this memory immediately sprang to mind.
This is a story about ticks. Not the kind a clock makes, and not the birder slang kind of tick, either. The bloodsucking creature kind.
When I was in college, every spring I would help one of my professors do a survey of breeding frogs and toads in the area. This isn’t as exciting as it sounds, because it mostly involved driving around a night, holding a microphone out the car window to record the sounds of frogs calling in a roadside ditch or pond. However, there was one pond that we had to walk to get to, and it was by far the best one.
Standing at the edge of that pond at the height of frog mating season was incredible. The tree frogs, peepers, and chorus frogs (among others) produced a deafening, otherworldly wall of sound. It was the stop I looked forward to most each spring. Unfortunately, getting there required a short walk through a field of tall grass, and tall grass in springtime means one thing: ticks.
This may come as a surprise, but before I started college I was really not all that outdoorsy, and I had somehow managed to make it all the way to age eighteen without ever finding a tick crawling on myself. The very thought of finding one gave me the creeps. I mean, sure, mosquitoes give you an itchy spot when they bite you, but at least they do their business and then leave. Ticks just stay attached to your skin in some out-of-the-way place, gorging and gorging on your blood until you finally discover them and forcibly remove them from your epidermis. Disgusting! Anyway, when we got back to the van after making our observations at the pond, Sally, the professor I was with, turned on a light and recommended I check my legs for ticks. Suddenly filled with dread, I looked down at the legs of my jeans, and saw what seemed like dozens of the hideous little creatures crawling all over me.
“Eurgh!!! Get them off! Get them off!” Frantic, I brushed at my legs, struggling to dislodge the creepy little bastards. When they were gone, I got into the van and closed the door, lightheaded with relief at having de-ticked myself. Never again, I vowed.
But Sally was giving me an appraising look. Finally she spoke, and what she said has stuck with me ever since. “If you really want to be a field biologist,” she said, “you’re going to have to get over this thing about ticks.”
Sally, you have to understand, was my idol. I wanted to be her when I grew up (and still do). An awesome naturalist, she had remarkable patience with my awkward, clueless college-freshman self. So when she told me I had to get over being freaked out by ticks, that’s just what I did. In the next couple years I would find many more scurrying around on me and even get bitten a few times, but somehow I trained myself not to react to them, pretending they didn’t bother me so much that I ended up believing it. And I still think of Sally every time I find one crawling on myself and calmly pluck it off and dispose of it. Ticks? I say to my campers. Bah. No big deal.
If only they knew.