Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tick, tick, tick

Our property here in Ireland has lots of tall grass and brush that requires cutting each year when we arrive, otherwise we would be overwhelmed with wildness. And that means ticks. Tiny black ticks that climb to the tops of grass stalks and wait for me to arrive with my strimmer and bare legs. The last ritual before going to bed at night is tick check.

I'm leery of ticks since I managed to contact Lyme disease in New England several years ago -- that nasty little malady that seems to be all the rage. It was no fun. And now, apparently, there's a bit of a Lyme scare in Ireland, par-tick-ularly in Kerry and Cork. I have no evidence that the ticks in our fields are infected with the disease-causing bacteria -- Lord knows I've been bitten often enough -- but I'm taking no chances. So I watch, and they wait, there on the tops of their stalks.

What goes on in a tick brain, such as it is? More or less the same thing that goes on in any animal brain: eat and have sex. For the tick these compulsions would seem to work at cross purposes. Ticks can't hop or fly. They barely creep. Their inner appetite says "Climb." Climb to the top of a grass stalk so that you might be brushed against by a dog, or a sheep, or a human with a strimmer, buckets of blood all. How then, I wonder, does a tick find a mate? Scale wise, it would be like a male and a female human wondering around in the thousands of square miles of the Amazon jungle, hoping to bump into each other. And there you are at the top of a grass stalk waiting for a blood meal to amble by. How will you find her? How will she find you? Stunning, isn't it, the diversity of life contrived by evolution

The tick needs blood. The Borrelia bacterium needs the tick and me. The tick needs another tick to make more ticks. All of us, tick, bacteria, and bare-legged strimmer go round and round in an endless dance. There is a grandeur in this view of life, said Darwin. When it comes to ticks, I could do with a bit less grandeur.