Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Photo by Cathy Alger
Memorial Day 2008
Orwell, Vermont
My Dad was the honored Grand Marshall

Surely it must have rained on Memorial Day at times during my childhood. I don't recall that a shower or a deluge ever threatened to cancel the parade, or that the Memorial Day "exercises" at school were carried out under a sullen cloud.
Memorial Day as it was observed in the 1950's was one of the two holidays for which a school "program" was planned, practiced for, and produced for the edification of parents and neighbors. [The other holiday was Christmas.]
Every grade school teacher of the time cherished back issues of a magazine which held a storehouse of plays, pageants, drills and recitations for any season of the year.
Poems were assigned according to the memorization capacity of the dozen or so children attending a one room rural school in any given year.
In the school I attended for the first six years, the available candidates for public speaking was narrowed by the fact that half the students were from one large French Canadian family, all in various stages of struggling to learn the English language.
Using fluent English was difficult for them, but they could learn "flag drills."

I wonder now how on earth the formations of a flag drill could have been written out or illustrated.
I recall that we were lined up according to ascending heights, marched left and right, dividing and intersecting, a few moves added and practiced each day.  Our feet thumped on the old wooden floor, we were admonished to keep in straight lines, to set our feet down squarely, not toeing in or out.
Eventually we learned to do the drill with the music of a scratchy victrola record and ultimately, when the teacher no longer had to watch us and bark out the measures, she played a vigorous marching tune on the old pump organ. Not til a day or two before the "program" did we get to carry the small limp American flags mounted on thin wooden dowels.

Memorization came easily to me then. My mother had been a rural school teacher herself before taking some years off to raise her daughters. I was allowed to take a copy of my "piece" home to practice, to chant as I helped dry the supper dishes. From my mother I had learned early on to stand up straight and still, to read aloud or recite clearly and [so important!] "with expression."

I was in 6th grade the spring that I undertook to learn "The Blue and The Gray."
I knew in some vague way that the poem referred to the dead of the American War Between the States, The Civil War, it was called in our history books.
I had no idea at the time that England, France, Europe, had been wracked by civil wars as well.
I had no concept of "battle-blood gory"  nor yet of the anguish of conflicting loyalties which could persuade the division of states, of families, of a whole country.

I knew that filling baskets with branches of sweet-smelling lilac, watching while the biggest boys moved desks and tables to create a "stage" and a sitting area for our parents was a welcome diversion from the usual arithmetic class.
I knew that those of us who lived near the school would go home at lunch time and return for the afternoon's program.  I delighted in the fact that I would wear my Sunday best summer dress with its starched bell of a skirt on a weekday.

Some of the words of the poem created mind pictures well within my grasp. I knew about "morning sun-rays" and spent my summers wandering "forests and fields."
I regularly experienced the "cooling drip of the rain."

I stood in my pretty pastel dress with my hair brushed smooth and "spoke my piece" flawlessly,  unwittingly, with no concept that the poem's references must have wrenched at the hearts of any listeners, those who had served in the most recent war, who had bitter memory of "the ranks of the dead," or those who had lost a father, a brother, a sweetheart or a husband.

I can no longer recite the poem.
A few lines floated to the surface of my mind yesterday as I weeded down the long row of stringbeans, enough words so that I could readily search it out.
It is copied below.

The Blue and the Gray
By Francis Miles Finch
By the flow of the inland river,

Whence the fleets of iron have fled,

Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver,

Asleep are the ranks of the dead:

Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the judgment-day;

Under the one, the Blue,

Under the other, the Gray.



These in the robings of glory,

Those in the gloom of defeat,

All with the battle-blood gory,

In the dusk of eternity meet:

Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the judgment-day;

Under the laurel, the Blue,

Under the willow, the Gray.



From the silence of sorrowful hours

The desolate mourners go,

Lovingly laden with flowers

A like for the friend and the foe:

Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the judgment-day;

Under the roses, the Blue,

Under the lilies, the Gray.



So with an equal splendor,

The morning sun-rays fall,

With a touch impartially tender,

On the blossoms blooming for all:

Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the judgment-day;

Broidered with gold, the Blue,

Mellowed with gold, the Gray.



So, when the summer calleth,

On forest and field of grain,

With an equal murmur falleth

The cooling drip of the rain:

Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the judgment-day;

Wet with the rain, the Blue,

Wet with the rain, the Gray.



Sadly, but not with upbraiding,

The generous deed was done,

In the storm of the years that are fading

No braver battle was won:

Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the judgment-day;

Under the blossoms, the Blue,

Under the garlands, the Gray.



No more shall the war cry sever,

Or the winding rivers be red;

They banish our anger forever

When they laurel the graves of our dead!

Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the judgment-day;

Love and tears for the Blue,

Tears and love for the Gray.





 





Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lilac Time in New England

Photo by Cathy Alger

Early spring and the lilac coming into leaf behind our old cabin in Vermont.



At the bottom of my grandfather's garden was a tumbling stone wall.  Yearly a neglected grape vine--wild grapes, we called them--trailed its bitter fruit over the remnant of a fence. A few stunted lilacs found a toe-hold in the ledge-y ground that sloped away toward the wide meadow below.
Lilacs grew in the yard of the one-room school up the dirt road--white lilacs that had survived the careless tramping feet of decades of school children.
Lilacs, blue-purple, ruddy-lavender, pure white, grew in nearly every door yard in town or in the country. They drooped, dew-wet over the fences of old cemeteries, defined piles of tumbled moss-grown rock, all that remained of nearly forgotten houses.

As the end of May approached with Memorial Day programs scheduled in the schools and on village greens, we watched anxiously, hoping that lilacs would be at their best to cut and cram into tall baskets or the biggest vase brought out from the dining room cupboard.
Never mind that the graceful leaves wilted as soon as the sprays were picked.  The fragrance of the lilacs made up for any difficulties in arrangement.

A warm spell early in the month might bring the lilacs into bloom too soon.  A late frost theatened to nip them just as the buds were tight beads of color.  A hard rain followed by muggy weather would leave the petals browned around the edges.
We loved them anyway--the sure promise of another summer--a link with every remembered New England spring.
My next younger sister sent a brief e-mail last week wondering if I could access a particular piece about lilacs.
I blundered around, suggested Amy Lowell's "Lilacs" and then Walt Whitman's  elegy to Abraham Lincoln which begins "When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed."

The work in question eluded me for several days. Eventually I recalled that our late mother had watched the local paper each year for a familiar essay.
A rather imaginative entry on google's search engine finally produced the prose I sought.

It was first published in the Rutland Herald [Rutland, Vermont] in 1929 in the editorial column.
The writer was William H. Field, for several years the Herald's editor.

The untitled, much-loved essay is copied below for your enjoyment.


(Reprinted from the Herald of May 29, 1929)



Now is the brief season of the lilac bush, modest and enduring symbol of the depth and permanence of New England traditions. It has given a name to color, perfume, poems, songs, story.

Translated into many languages, its name is upon the lips of millions in many lands. Yet it remains unspoiled by such widespread fame. It is still the sturdy, wholesome dooryard emblem of the New England home.

With what eager anticipation has it been planted at the threshold of new, bravely begun homes.

With what poignant grief has it been left behind for long bitter migrations from whose hardship and loneliness homesick thoughts have turned in anguished longing.

To what strange and distant homes have its roots been transplanted, there to grow blossoms and, in turn, be abandoned again.

On this very day in mountain pastures and along deserted roads, over the graves of dead homes bloom the lilac bushes planted by the founders of those pioneer households. Many of those graves would be otherwise indistinguishable, their timbers long since buried, their cellar holes filled in and grassed over.

Were it not for the steadfast lilac bush, there would be nothing to mark that here once dwelt human souls who shared happiness, sorrow, hope and despair.

Who lived there, whither they went or what their adventures nobody knows. No descendants make annual pilgrimages to remember and decorate these forgotten graves of the homes of ancestors. But each year at this season, the lonely, faithful lilac bush blooms again and lavishes its sweetness in memory of the hands that planted it.

(W.H.F. 1877-1935)



Thursday, May 27, 2010

Haying

Finally, a forecast of warm, dry weather and the hay is laid down to cure.

A stand of daisies discovered in the midst of a field.

Although we haven't seen deer, there were many "beds" where they have rested hidden in tall grass.

A sprig of blue-eyed grass and a form of yellow clover.

The rains brought the grass on heavier than J. anticipated. The mower/swather is elderly and has to go at a slow pace through the denser hay.

The different heads of grass are intriguing. These had to be taken outside directly after I photographed them spread on the pine table.  The cats like to play with the stems and eat bits of the stalks--which they promptly and messily hawk up.

Pebbles always feels that we are doing things outside for her entertainment. She was very inspired by the scent of fresh hay curing in the sunshine and offered to do a taste test.
She has decided it is good stuff and that she should have frequent snacks.

As J. made the first rounds of the back field he saw a turkey fly up.  When I went out with a glass of ice water for him, he shut down the tractor and we walked through the uncut grass hoping to find the nest so he could spare it.
Next morning I found the nest, a considerable distance from where the hen turkey rose into the air.  J. figures he unwittingly hit the nest early on and the hen scudded through the grass in escape, only flying out after she had run quite a way.
  The eggs must have been recently laid as chicks hadn't yet formed.  The remains were still quite fresh and there was a scent as of a rich custard just removed from an oven.
The coloration of the shattered eggs was lovely: a dark cream with brown splotches.
We felt badly.  Such accidents to wildlife are unavoidable in haying season.  We've heard that a neighbor struck and killed a fawn while mowing deep grass.
I admit that my sorrow is selective.
I don't regret the large snake which was hit by the mower.  It became a meal for the always hovering vultures.

Bales curing in the sun.  J. has made adjustments to the baler, which wasn't packing and slicing off some of the rectangles as neatly as it should.

A neighbor who would like  J. to put up his own small stand of hay stopped and volunteered to help pick up hay from the field and stack it in the bays of the tobacco barn.  Hot, sweaty work.
J. made arrangements to pick up a young Amish man after his day's work at a local furniture factory. Joseph is slender and strong, a hard worker.
I drove the tractor at a snail's pace along the rows of bales.  Two men heaved bales onto the trailer while J. stacked them.
While each load was stashed in the barn I hurried to the house for pitchers of ice water.
I brought up cookies and the men consumed all but two.
When we quit for the evening and walked down the track to the house, Pebbles caught sight of the plastic zip-lock bag dangling from J.'s hand and set up a noisy begging.
He fed her the cookies!

The evening before cutting the hay, J. sat on the porch watching a pair of red-winged blackbirds darting in and out of the tall grass. Stepping carefully he disovered their nest and marked the location with a stake, so that he could leave it undisturbed.

Yesterday we visited the nest site and found  two absurd chicklets teetering on stalks of grass just outside the nest.

Who would have thought baby birds had tufty hair-dos?

Neighbors stopped yesterday afternoon to introduce themselves and inquire if they could buy 100 bales of hay directly off the field.
We enjoyed getting acquainted--and incidently selling this first "cash crop" from our tiny farm.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Upside-Down Cat

Teasel [aka "Sweetie Pie', Momma's Darling", "Tinker Belle"] is such a beautiful and personable cat.
I take numerous photos of her, but many have to be discarded.  Cats will look away at the crucial moment, wiggle, walk off, turn their backs.
The cats love to birdwatch. They spend many hours grouped by the sliding door peering at the birds.  The cardinals' nest is only a few feet away and above their heads. The sparrows run along the ground beneath the door. Robins bounce about under the maple tree.
When one is seriously alert to the birds, it is very important to be in control of the tail.  No twitching or slashing to give one away.
Viewed from this angle it has to be admitted that Teasel is getting PLUMP.
We tell her she is "stretching her stripes."




I love the herringbone pattern on Teasel's tail.

Taken from the outside.

No, she's not upside down.  When my chair at the dining table is pulled out, there are just inches between the back of the chair and the screen door.  I tried to wriggle around and hold the camera at different angles trying to capture my bird watchers.  My chin was nearly on the back of my chair and intrigued by my contortions, Teasel cranked her stripey head over backwards and gave me this beautiful blue-eyed stare.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Saturday Evening Walk-About


This is one of the birdhouses J. constructed. It was meant for the bluebirds, but it is claimed by a pair of tree swallows.

The magnolia tree is preparing to blossom.  I have thought of them as a deep south species, thus it was a surprise to discover one in our yard. I hope the weather favors it.




The leaves and the buds have a graceful shape.


The last of the Iris. The rain hasn't been kind to them, but they fared better than the second-blooming  peony plant whose beautiful deep pink flowers were battered and bowed by the storms.

No idea what this is. I pruned this shrub radically last month. Once the blossoms are fully out, I may come up with a tentative ID.

This is a bamboo hedge.  It has grown alarmingly in the wet days.  J. thought the mockingbird had a nest in the branches, but we both gave up trying to force our way in to see.


The garlic plants. These quirky seed heads delight me.

Honeysuckle vine naturalizes all over the southern US to the point of being a pest.
The scent is heavily sweet and carries hauntingly on the breeze.

The wet weather has created colonies of "toadstools" under the maple trees.

I can't get a good photo of the cardinals' nest in this un-named tall shrub outside the dining room sliding door.

I tried standing [precariously] on the heat pump and using zoom--still not a clear photo.
The babies have hatched and both parents are busy bringing food to the nest.

What is this?  It grows all over the lawn.  It looks like strawberries in both leaf style and fruit.  Believe me, these are not strawberries.  I tried two of them and they are nasty tasting.  Even the birds aren't eating them!


A corner of the recently planted flower border. The lavender-blues of veronica and salvia contrast with achillea "moonshine."

The moon riding an evening sky.
Seconds before, a skein of birds moved darkly across the blue space.  They were vanished in the time it took for the camera shutter to click.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tulip Poplar

web photo of a tulip poplar
Monday found us driving a maze of ever narrowing back roads which looped and swooped past crossroad chapels and small tidy houses.  Following directions taken over the phone and watching for the signposts at each turning, we  lurched along spiney ridges, plunged into shady "hollers" and finally crossed over a wicked concrete bridge with no guardrails. As we approached the bridge we were diverted from the sight of tree roots and debris from the flood of several weeks ago by the sight of a large "cow snake" slinking into the roadside weeds.
We were on our way to lunch at the home of a couple who moved into the area just weeks after our arrival.
We met them at church and talked with them at a potluck dinner.

We had a lovely and leisurely meal [the benefits of retirement!] which finished with home made coconut ice cream.
With the food and dishes cleared away we set out to walk over part of their acreage, which unlike our little farm, is heavily wooded. We noted familiar maple and oak trees, J. searched in vain for a white ash. The trees on the steep hillsides have not been thinned and tall slender trunks stretched toward the sky.
In the leaf litter underneath I observed drifts of  large"petals,"banded yellow and orange.
None of us had any notion what they might be, but of course my curiosity was stirred.


There were many single petals in the strew of last years' leaves in our friends' wooded acreage.
I pounced on this battered but whole flower.


A close up of the blossom.

When we visited the pioneer museum at Renfro Valley we noted the signs which specified that the reconstructed log buildings were made with yellow poplar and American chestnut.
When Mr. Rogers visited us here, he pointed out that the small garage he constructed on the property was framed with yellow poplar recycled from a home that was damaged in the Gradyville Flood of 1907.
In the dusty recesses of my ragbag mind, I pictured yellow poplar as a vague cross between the Lombardy poplars [which my Dad planted in a fit of horticultural experimentation] and the related aspens and cottonwoods of Wyoming.
It was a surprise to learn that yellow poplar and tulip poplar are the same tree--the state tree of Kentucky.  The botanical name is liriodendron tulipifera.

There is a story behind the choosing of the state tree. To read it, follow the link below.




Friday, May 21, 2010

Listen to the Mocking Bird


Mockingbird photo from U.S Fish and Wildlife

Late in April we began noticing a grey-brown bird of medium size with white breast and tail feathers.  Something about the bird joggled a memory but I couldn't name it, couldn't locate my bird book.  Efforts to pin down the bird and its' friends as they bounced about in the green of the meadow were too much for my binoculars. We turned our attentions to the many colorful cardinals and bluebirds perched in the maples and the sweetgum tree.  A pair of cardinals nested in a tall shrub outside the dining room window and their sweet melodious calls have filled the air.

Several times, hearing what purported to be the cardinals, my ear caught other notes.  I told J. "I think we have mockingbirds in the dooryard."
About 10 days ago, during an interval when it didn't rain [!] I worked in the flower borders, the chirp of robins, the trill of the cardinals making background music.
Suddenly a burst of song floated on the air from a nearby branch.  The song went on--and on---the cardinal's bubbly trills, its "chirping" sound, then the call of a robin, followed by the whistle of a blackbird--repeated again in sequence.

I listened with joy, laughter just below the surface.
We have since seen the mockingbirds and heard their happy repetoire a number of times.
They amaze me. Since the cats sit behind the screen door by the hour, bird-watching avidly, I expect to hear the mockingbirds adding a Siamese "Me--yowww" to their ditty.

As a child I learned the sentimental old song, "LIsten to the Mockingbird."
It is one of those mournful tales of a dead young sweetheart, but it is set to a rollicking tune, one that was familiar at square dances when I was a teen.
The caller, blind Johnny Blackburn, belted out the figures of the dance to the old tune as fiddles sawed and the piano planked out the rythym.  Each couple in turn pranced through the motions, finishing with a "swing" in the center of the square --and the caller's sly, "Kiss her in the center, if you dare."

I'm dreaming now of Hally, sweet Hally, sweet Hally;
I'm dreaming now of Hally,
For the thought of her is one that never dies:

Shes sleeping in the valley, the valley, the valley
She's sleeping in the valley,
And the mocking bird is singing where she lies.
[Chorus]
Listen to the mocking bird,
Listen to the mocking bird,
The mocking bird still singing o'er her grave;
Listen to the mocking bird,
Listen to the mocking bird,
Still singing where the weeping willows wave.

From Wikipedia:  "Listen to the Mocking Bird (1855) is an American folk song from the mid-19th century. The lyrics were by Septimus Winner, under the pseudonym "Alice Hawthorne", and the music was by Richard Milburn.

It is a mournful tale, with the singer dreaming of his sweetheart, who is dead and buried, with the mockingbird, whose song the couple once enjoyed, now singing over her grave. The melody is moderately lively though. It was one of the most popular ballads of the 19th century and sold over twenty million copies of sheet music.
It was popular during the American Civil War and was used as marching music. It was a particular favorite of Abraham Lincoln who said it was, "as sincere as the laughter of a little girl at play."





Monday, May 17, 2010

Anthropomorphic Mice

I blame Beatrix Potter, Disney, and all the illustrators who cunningly sketch mice in pinafores or waistcoats; Mice sipping tea, inhabiting cunning little domiciles tucked in the roots of a tree.

J. has been refurbishing his second hand haying equipment, waiting for the days when it stops raining long enough to make hay.
On Friday he tinkered happily with the hay baler which he had pulled up beside the garage.  I worked some yards away from the building, sifting chunks of decaying sod and roots from my new flower border.


"Come here," J. called. "There's a mouse and her babies in a nest in the baler."
I ran for the camera and then crowded close to see. 
In the rear of the baler is a covered area which houses the reels of baler twine on their several spindles. These reels were nearly empty, just as the baler was left by its previous owner. In the hollow center of a reel of twine was an immense heap of fluff, out of which a mouse ran, dodging in and out of her nest, several nursing infants attached.

"We need to corner them," said J. with resignation, "and relocate them."
I fetched out a plastic bowl with a lid, and J. carefully put his gloved hand into the cavity.
Mother mouse was frantic, darting around the reels, hiding behind a bit of flaccid cardboard, circling the small space with her attached dependents. On one speedy round she lost them and quickly plunged through one of the drain holes onto the ground--lost from our sight.

I gingerly scooped out the baby mice who had shrugged themselves back into the nest of fluff and dumped the wriggly mass into the bowl.
"What do we do with them?" I asked, testily. Rain had started to drizzle down--icy on the back of my neck, dripping into the bowl of nest material.
We nudged the bowl under the relative shelter of the baler, where we had last seen Mother Mouse, and went inside for lunch. From the dining table J. kept an eye on the baler.
"I think she's going to retrieve her babies," he remarked. "She's running around the bowl."

By now you'll have gathered that being idiot softies, we couldn't simply snuff out the mice. But where does one desire to establish a mouse family--who will presumably quickly add to their numbers.

Finding a large mouse nest beneath one of the old kitchen cupboards during our renovation last month was, in a word, disgusting.  It was dirty--nasty.  [Yes, several more words!]
A number of years ago mice got into what we assumed was a mouse-proof storage trailer where our worldly goods were stacked as we built yet another house over our heads.  Mice managed to get into boxes of linens--good sturdy boxes with lids sealed by heavy packing tape. They had a heyday chewing unbelievably large holes in sheets and towels.
Mice in a barn make messes in stored hay, defile grain.

Work on the baler was postponed by a rainy afternoon.
On Sunday, between showers, J. had a look under the twine compartment cover.

Mother Mouse had re-assembled the scattered bits of her nest, rebuilding it on top of an almost  full reel of twine.
She restored all three mouselets to dry safety.
The image of Hunca Munca, with mobcap and sprigged gown, persists.
So, too, does the remembrance of former mouse-messes in closets and pantry.
Since the rain shows little sign of stopping, perhaps the family will mature and move on before J. has to use the baler.
Move on--into the boxes stacked in the garage? Into the container with Pebbles' feed?
Will mouse-murder have to be committed or do we pretend they aren't there?

Tuesday Update
J. managed to scoop Mother Mouse and babies into a box this morning before she knew what was happening.  He conveyed them up to the fence-line by the woods.  Hopefully she will move out of the box and into the woods. Hopefully she will have no mousie dreams of the garage with its cartons and stacks of unsorted belongings.



Thursday, May 13, 2010

Snippets of Thursday

J. has been tinkering his second hand haying machinery for several days.  Today he cut down the first of the crop.  He and J.M. sagely wagged their heads and agreed that the up-coming fore-cast isn't the best for haying, but there comes that point when it has to be cut.  The sweet scent of drying grasses and clover is soft
on the warm air.

I have crippled about today--remembering the years when I could garden by the hour without more than a twinge or two to show for my efforts.
Oh, groan!
Yesterday I snipped blossoms off our first year strawberry plants.  In the afternoon I picked sod out of the smaller flower border, raked it smooth, moved the rosebushes farther apart--after viewing J.M.'s of the same variety which he set too close to their front walk.
I scattered seed of dianthus [I like the old name of gillyflowers] poked in some nasturtiums from an older saved packet.
I talked about picking the sod from the larger border.
J. went out this morning and hoed it, so the eventual task should be easier.  Maybe tomorrow [?]


Neighbors we met at church stopped late this afternoon with 2 qts of strawwberries from their garden and a loaf of fresh whole wheat bread.

The berries were so good that we made a quick run up to the junction Wal Mart for whipping cream.

I haven't gotten a good photo of the cardinals and their nest in the un-named spreading shrub just outside the dining room. Their pleasant voices drift in the opened windows. The cats watch them. I watch them.
Last night at midnight, I turned on both lights in the bathroom which also faces onto the cardinal's home. [Yes, I was picking at a tick!]
It took a few moments to register that the cardinals were complaining in very loud voices, as the bright light spilled out to their leafy abode.
I can imagine the conversation: "What are you doing with those lights on?  You'll wake the children and nobody will get any sleep. TURN OUT THE LIGHTS!!

Chastened, I did so.

A thank you to all who commiserated with me about the ticks.
Glad you enjoyed the write-up---striving to see the ironies of life is a sanity saver--sort of.
What a plague.
We have talked with a number of area people who agree that they are a serious nuisance. Apparently this isn't an area where tick-borne illness is common. I pray I won't be the exception.
I have annointed my "bites" with tee tree oil, slathered on tick repellant.
The cats have sniffed and told me I smell bad.
I'm headed off to shower, but I think I may as well get used to the odor of the preventative measures.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Venue of Vultures--and Creepy Crawlers

Last Wednesday Morning, as I lowered myself sleepily into the bathtub, I noticed a brown fleck on my inner  thigh--a big enough spot to be quite visible without my spectacles.  Picking up a bar of soap I swiped it over my skin and eased back into the lavender scented bath. The spot remained and an irritable scrape at it did nothing to dislodge it. "I don't have a mole in that exact place," I thought crossly.  The spot lifted with pressure from my nail and I flicked it away--only to notice moments later that it had landed on the edge of the tub and was oozing a tiny trickle of blood.  My blood. It was a tick.
J. emerged from the bedroom as I toweled off.
"A tick has bitten me." I said in disgust.
"Oh, where?"
"Umm--right--there."
"You shouldn't have picked it off," he said, instructionally. "You're supposed to stun them with something and they'll let go. You should have called me."
"I wasn't expecting a tick. And I didn't recognize it first thing in the morning."

After breakfast J. began moving tools from the carport and tidying up. From the kitchen window I saw a "buzzard" land on the roof of the tobacco barn.  By the time I reached the garden, camera in hand, the red-headed turkey vulture had been joined by a friend.
Vultures [familiarly called buzzards here, although they are not] are not handsome birds. In Kentucky there are nearly always serveral wheeling overhead, sometimes circling far out, frequently sailing noiselessly close.

Vultures clean up carrion--roadkill--which in our countryside consists mostly of unlucky possums. A vulture that is threatened will regurgitate a nasty mess of half-digested food. While I doubted that the birds would actually hurl at me from the barn roof, I stopped at a discreet distance and tried several degrees of zoom.
Back at the carport, telling J. about the "buzzards" I raised one sandaled foot and then the other to rest on the edge of the brick planter, while I brushed off bits of grass. A tiny brown spec moved across my foot.  Another tick.
J. cornered it and crushed it.
"You can't wear sandals", he said, "The grass must be full of them and you're always tramping through it."

Nothing else seemed to be walking on any bare skin, so I grumpily got my watering can and began to sprinkle the tomatoes and flowers lined up near the brick planter, waiting their turn to be put in the earth.

I was startled to see J. throw down his tools, rip open his belt and drop his jeans to his knees!
"You've made me paranoid", he said sheepishly, "I thought something was crawling on me."
Glancing over at this astonishing performance I commented [most unwisely] "You can't possibly see a tick on yourself--you're much too hairy."
I was invited to help with the tick search, a suggestion I politely declined.

We went on with the day's work. I put on socks and shoes each time I ventured beyond the porch or carport.

We dutifully looked up information on the web regarding ticks. One website suggested helpfully that people who live in areas inhabited by ticks should stay indoors from April through October.
Others suggested dressing defensively--to the extent of wearing long pants tucked into high socks, long sleeves secured at the wrist with heavy elastic bands.
Some sites recommended stunning an embedded tick with various solutions, startling it with a match that had been lit, blown out and quickly laid upon the tick. Still other authorities admonished that the only safe removal was to grasp the body of the tick with tweezers and twist until the whole thing let go.

Somehow I managed to almost convinve myself that my tick encounter had been a random, one-time thing.

On the way home from Bowling Green next day, I ran my fingers through my hair to loosen it after removing a hair clip. There was a tick imbedded in my scalp. As I undressed for bed that night I discovered that two ticks had quietly taken up residence on my posterior. Yanking grimly with the tweezers, I got one out.  I couldn't reach the other.  As I hopped on one leg, J. thumped down the hallway.
"Do you have another tick?"
He shooed me down the hall to the bedroom, commanded me to lie face down on the bed.  I curled in a dismal heap, listened to him collecting his battery of instruments.
" I don't want you jabbing at my backside!" I said furiously.
[J.'s mother, sister, several aunts and cousins, several nieces have been/are RN's, LPN,'s a PA. He has a certain amount of sang froid when it comes to these matters, although most of his practical experience was in treating the cows on our dairy farm.]
J. glared over his reading glasses, brandished the tweezers.
No help for it--I rolled over.
I managed to work myself into a state of mild hysteria.
"Be still," commanded J.
I sniveled. Jemima, the small girl cat, came and sat on my head.  Eggnog walked back and forth along the edge of the bed, nattering anxiously.
The more I considered my humiliating predicament, the more I wailed.
[Be it said here, that I seldom do cry.  I can't seem to indulge in a good fit of woe or pique or rage without some distinct part of me hovering on the sidelines and saying reprovingy, "You are really making an ass of yourself!"]
There was a sharp tweek, the clatter of the tweezers landing on the night stand, a minute sting of alcohol.

"I'm not finished," said the nurse-person, "I'm putting charcoal poultices on all your tick sites."
I heard a faint gritty sound as the contents of several charcoal capsules were mixed with a few drops of water.  Blobs of the black mixture were applied to the bite on my head, to the original one on my thigh and to the several on my backside. Large bandaids were laid over the charcoal.

We have bought tick repellant. I have daubed it on my shoes, my socks, the top of my head, my wrists.  I have worn jeans, shoes and socks outside. I have inspected myself several times daily--always when coming in from the garden.
Still I come in with these unwanted parasites attached.
Ater pruning the grapevines, I removed one from my shirtfront, another as it trespassed across my belly.  J. had to twist one off my collarbone.
Tonight in the shower I scraped off yet another.
J. has had two ticks--one which "bit" him and one which he apprehended as it progressed up his arm.
I'm not sure why I present such a vulnerable target.
What a pestilence!  Unlike the unloveable vultures, the ticks seem to serve no useful pupose.


I think they were watching me watching them.



To those who have persevered through this tirade, I leave you with a photo of a terrapin which J. hastened across the road before it could be smashed by a car--the fate of one just up the highway.
It is the second live one he has found.
A neighbor, stopping to chat a few minutes earlier, had mentioned them.
If you are from around here, you need to call it a "tar-pin."

http://www.avianweb.com/turkeyvultures.html