Certain ticks found on deer harbor the bacterium in their stomachs. Lyme disease is spread by these ticks when they bite the skin permitting the bacterium to infect the body. Lyme disease can cause abnormalities in the skin, joints, heart and nervous system.

I sat on the ground because
that’s what the boulder was doing.
It seemed only right.

I laid down on my back in the leaf duff
so I could join the giant oak tree
in tracking the sun.

But this was a woods with
a clear view beneath the canopy,
everything but the rocks & ferns reduced
to telltale pellets.
I should’ve kept my distance.

On the way home, three times
I felt something on the side of my face
& couldn’t dislodge it.

Hours later, at supper,
a tiny, red & black barnacle of an insect
dropped from my collar & began inching
across the table: a deer tick.
My thumb came down

& crushed it against the smooth white wood.
Clear views are dangerous here.
Only a sick forest can harbor
such distances.

10/30/07: Lines subtracted from last stanza, and different lines added to third stanza.
10/18/07: Lines added to last stanza in response to reader comments.

17 Replies to “Diagnostic”

  1. Yes, I think it was one of those ticks – that’s the point. But the disease is usually transmitted by the nymph forms earlier in the season; this was a full-sized adult (still tiny, but bigger than a pinhead). So I’m probably O.K.

  2. The tick should have stayed away from the 2 legged deer! Taught him a lesson. I recall removing many ticks from myself and others using the old light the match blow it out and apply to the rear end of the tick method.

  3. I love the way this ties in with yesterday’s post. Looks like an unpleasant disease from the link you give but at least you know it bit you on the face so any target-shaped rash will be immediately obvious to all onlookers and you can go and get treatment. Imagine if it had been an only-viewable-with-difficulty part of your anatomy.

  4. If it was crawling around still, chances are you were not bitten, I should think.

    What is the connection between “clear views” and lyme disease? (Besides lying down in a ticky spot… as opposed to a spotty tick…sorry! That’s what we reckon with here.) Are you referring to the general sickness of an imbalanced forest ecosystem or is there a more specific mechanism?

  5. Fred – Yeah, but the thing is, we have never even had the common dog ticks here, let alone deer ticks, until just a few years ago. So they’re still a novelty to me, albeit a not particularly pleasant one.

    rr – I guess MB is right: if it had bit, it would still be attached. I dunno. I never spend much time in front of a mirror with my glasses on, so I’m simply not going to find a tick if it’s burrowed in somewhere. I refuse to do tick checks after every walk. Not gonna happen.

    David – I know, but I’m uninsured and dirt-poor, so I’ll just take my chances.

    mb – The connection is that eastern forests should have dense understories. If they don’t, it’s a sign that the deer population is way out of whack. So yes, ecosystem sickness leading to impaired human health – as is so often the case.

    If this isn’t clear, maybe I need to add a line or two somewhere in the poem. I’d like to write more poems on conservation themes, but one major challenge is the difficulty of judging how much reader knowledge to take for granted. And I think you’re someone who knows quite a bit more about nature than the average reader.

  6. I do not have a scientist’s knowledge, but perhaps you are correct that I know more than most — though the rest of the readers drawn to your blog might not fall into the category of “most” either, I don’t know. I agree, there is challenge to knowing how much background information to provide in a poem.

    In this case, it wasn’t clear to me what was causing the lack of understory. I’ve been in woods where it’s obvious from the unnatural shapes of the trees and brush that they’ve been over-browsed. Pruning gone mad, as it were. But I’ve also been in forests where the open room effect was simply the result of shade… a stage in the progression of forest type. But those weren’t eastern forests, with which I’m less familiar.

  7. I’ve also been in forests where the open room effect was simply the result of shade…
    Which would in fact be nearly the case with one type of eastern forest, the northern black spruce forest. Here in Pennsylvania, 60-80 years or deer overpopulation in some areas have produced deciduous or mixed deciduous-conifer forests with almost no understory, except for a few species unpapatable to deer. That’s highly unnatural. Now I need to find a concise, poetic way of saying that.

    Thanks for the feedback!

  8. if it had bit, it would still be attached.

    Umm, doesn’t an adult tick let go when they get full? (That is, to crawl off and lay their eggs…) Best keep an eye out for bull’s-eye rashes (I don’t know how long those take to develop, though.) You should at least phone your local doctor or hospital and ask if there’s a program to subsidize Lyme tests for indigents.

  9. Shit, this is making me itch!
    One holiday in the lower reaches of the Auvergne was ruined by ticks, loads of deer and a long-haired dog. Another time my brother got one on a predictable part of his anatomy – apparently this used to be a common problem in the days when courting couples took to the woods for privacy. He was affectionately known as Man with Tick on Dick for a while afterwards.
    I loved the forst part of the post, enjoyed the walk, till the tick came along, but ML’s right, impressive you could write a poem about it.

  10. Man with Tick on Dick
    Thanks for the belly-laugh!

    I suppose one could make a case for the fact that parasites keep us humble, remind us of our place in the ecosystem. If only they did!


    Folks, the edit to the last stanza is an attempt to make things a little clearer, in response to MB’s comments. Still a bit too didactic for my tastes, but I’ll keep pondering it. Trying of course to avoid jargon on the one hand and sententiousness on the other: “too little resilience in the system” vs. “the deer have eaten the future.”

  11. Dave, this is a challenge, isn’t it. I wonder about adding something very small and simple to the third stanza (rather than your elaboration in the final stanza) — either to the first sentence, or between first and second sentences — something that would attribute the clear view to the deer activity (“eaten clear” pops into my mind, but you’ll know what’s right.). Just a thought.

  12. mb – Yeah, I thought of that. I was reluctant to say too much there and lose the narrative tension, but you’re right, if I can find something brief enough…

    Thanks for the additional feedback. This is one of those ones that will need a rest for a while. I’ll come back to it in a few months and the solution may appear obvious.

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