Tuesday, June 19, 2007

We're Not Divorced, But I'm Definitely Choosing the Destination of the Next Weekend Getaway

As I type this, my husband lies beside me in bed, shivering, snoring, mildly convulsing, and quite possibly dying. OK, that last part is not terribly likely, but you can't tell it by the way he acts when he's conscious. And while I feel sorry for him, because I love him and hate to see him suffer, a tiny part of me feels like he had it coming, first of all for dragging us into the Arkansas jungle primeval on an otherwise pleasant Saturday, to be feasted upon by all manner of malicious flora and fauna, then for being foolhardy enough to wear SHORTS on this trip, and also simply for not having the kickin' awesome poison-ivy-defying gene that I inherited from my mother. Sucks to be a mere mortal in the poison-ivy-susceptibility department.

Here's how it went down: Three weeks before Father's Day, Alex asks if we can go fishing, AGAIN, on Father's Day weekend. Well, sure--I mean, it's Father's Day, right? And he's got this spot in mind. This amazing, awesome, secret spot where the brown trout are MONSTERS and the hybrid bass eat those for bait. Oh, it will be incredible, he says, his eyes lighting up like a slightly feverish child's on Christmas Eve. I am instructed in the important differences between playing and reeling in the trout and bass I know, compared to the leviathans we'll be pulling in at the spot. He "briefs" me on how there will be a little bit of a hike through some woods, and a "kind of steep" climb down a cliffside to get to The Land of Mythical Fishing. Special purchases must be made, such as giant live bait in the form of minnows larger than my koi and huge angry-looking crawdads, braided high-tensile fishing line (that won't break under the weight of the monster fish), and mountain-climbing rope. In hindsight, it's that last item that really should have tipped me off, but, you know, I do love him, and occasionally, that is blinding.

A week later, he's getting anxious about the trip, because it's getting hotter every day, and he's afraid if we wait until Father's Day weekend, it will be too hot for the giant fish, who apparently will all have by this time retired to their summer homes in Colorado, where the river we're to be fishing from begins. Could we please go THIS weekend? Do you mean instead of, or in addition to next weekend, I ask, and am assured that it's INSTEAD. Well, sure. Why not? There are a million things I'd like to get done, but see above, the loving of the husband.

So on the appointed day, we load up our supplies, including the good camera for the photographing of our trophies (which will surely be so large that we'll have to release them), and head upriver. We do have to make an additional stop for more bait, and once again, I might have missed an important omen at the bait shop (by the way--why does a SKULL require an EYEPATCH? Does he have lazy-eyesocket?).
With more gigantic bait in hand, we depart the baitshop, and make for the spot. Or at least the departure point for the spot. We're carrying forty-leven things, it seems like. I have the rods and reels, and the camera in its giant, super-padded case, about which I complain frequently, being convinced that it was originally designed to transport plutonium, and is indeed overkill for carrying a camera. (I don't feel that way any more, and you'll see why soon enough.) Alex walks ahead of me into the woods, and--I believe I mentioned earlier that he was wearing shorts--in the woods--in Arkansas--in June--I soon notice that he's stopping every few feet, putting his stuff down, and slapping/swiping/flicking things off himself, particularly his legs. Oh, great, I think. Ticks. Arkansas ticks. The kind that leap onto any warm-blooded animal within 40 feet. At this point, I'm not feeling horribly threatened, because shorts, and white socks on Alex, while I have worn dark jeans and doused them, and the rest of myself, in insect repellent (though I will realize too late that, having not purchased the insect repellent myself, it is not one of the formulas with DEET, so I might as well be dipped in blackstrap molasses).
In about a hundred more feet, ticks are all over me. I'm blowing them off my arms, plucking them from my neck before they can bite, and imagining them all throughout my hair. I can not WAIT to get out of these woods and onto the rocky riverbank (what a fool I was to hold out that hope for relief). We reach the stopping point, and Alex instructs me to wait while he scopes out the best route of descent to the spot. I can't even see the river, but I can hear it. He disappears, and I get out the camera and take a few shots of the dam far away in the distance, congratulating myself for bringing the BIG lens for the camera. After a while, and a few dozen more tick removals, I'm ready to move, and begin to look for Alex. What I found, I think, should have sent me screaming back through the woods to wait in the car with the motor running, the AC pumping, and the XM Radio blasting until my husband came to his senses, but once again, I was hamstrung by the stupid love. I was here, he was there.
You can barely see him, and I had a 300mm zoom lens! He's there, in the center of the picture, facing left, in the white ballcap (tick beacon). I still don't know how he got down there, but he was looking for the best way for ME to get down. He picked a spot for me to begin my descent, and once I'd set foot over the edge of the precipice and slid ten or twelve feet against my will, he informed me that I should have started down backward. This day late/dollar short advice went over WELL, as there was no way I could turn around at this point without bouncing and rolling all the way down into the river...although I did miss a prime opportunity at yelling, "Aaaaas yoooooou wiiiiiiiish!" before I died from the impact. So I basically slid painfully and far too rapidly down a near-straight incline, through dirt, shale, and what I knew was poison ivy, before finally fetching up on the unforgiving black rock at the bottom, occasionally encountering one of these guys, who, having fallen out of Alex's bait bucket on his way down, was ready to do some damage to the next thing it saw...that being me. Yes, there was screaming. Shut up, until it happens to you.
And here is where I make the only two concessions I am willing to make about this day. One, the spot was beautiful.
Two, the Plutonium-worthy camera case totally earned its keep by making the bounce/slide down the cliff with me and keeping my camera completely safe and intact.
So now that we were both down at the water's edge (so to speak--the water being still many many feet below us as we perched on the rocky cliff), Alex began fishing, while I alternated between taking pictures and peeling layers of solid tickdom off my person and clothing. He caught and released several regular-sized brownies and rainbows, but while the monster fish were not in evidence, the monster ticks WERE. Also, the humidity was somewhere in the neighborhood of 189%, so the sweat was pouring, and in that process attracting MORE ticks. And then, this crazy Stephen King-John Carpenter FOG rolled in, and imbued the ticks with super-powers, making them into supernatural heat-seeking, bloodsucking, MISSILES, and suddenly they were everywhere, and we (I) decided it was time to flee. For our LIVES.
I almost wish I had some sort of visual evidence of our escape. Almost. Because it was either heroic and death-defying, or tragic and hilarious. Either way, probably downright entertaining. I had decided to cross the river at the shallowest point, and let Alex drive around to get me, because I'd tried to get just a few feet up the incline, and it simply wasn't happening. I'd seen some young men fly-fishing in the water, right in the middle, so I knew that the deepest point was walkable, and the current was fairly still. In the meantime, Alex had somehow (probably due to his actually HAVING some upper-body strength) managed to haul himself up the cliffside, clutching onto anything that would provide purchase and dragging himself through the underbrush...both of these items being, generally speaking, poison ivy. Yeah, it'll poison you, but it's good for climbing!

I finally, out of sheer desperation and powered by Tears of Rage, found the strength to climb up just far enough so that I could reach the mountain-climbing rope Alex tossed down, to tie onto the camera case, which had become like my baby ("Leave me! Save my Alpha-100!"), so he could haul it up to safety. At this point, I still had every intention of swimming for the opposite shore. While Alex and I were debating this (I have every confidence in my swimming ability, and absolutely NO delusions about my prowess at something like, oh, CLIMBING, and knew perfectly well which one was more likely to leave my child motherless should I attempt it), the far-away klaxon sounded at the dam, which meant that they were just about to open up the generators. I'd have made it about halfway across the river before that water caught up with me and showed me exactly where the monster trout were. DANGIT. So now it was climb or die, because the water was also going to rise above where I was standing.

Alex lowered the rope again, as I screamed at him to please, for the love of God, dally it on something so that I wouldn't pull him over the edge and kill us both. I clawed and scrambled my way up through the same poison ivy and rocks that Alex had just traversed, but with the help of a strong man and a strong rope--if either of those elements had been missing, there is no way I'd have made it to the top (of course, take one of those out of the equation, and I'd never have been down there in the first place anyway). I surfaced, and lay on the blessedly flat ground sobbing and heaving and trying to catch my breath, and NOT speaking, for fear of the flames that might shoot out of my mouth. Once I could stand, I just sobbed, "I want to go HOME," took my camera (baby), and stormed out of those woods as fast as I could (which was, in retrospect, probably not all that fast), with Alex right behind me, saying either, "I'm sorry," or "I love you," every few feet. I think he was afraid that my head was going to split open and release a demon at any moment, which would tear off his skin and eat it while he watched. He wasn't far wrong, there.

When we finally made it back to the truck, we got to spend a really fun half-hour de-ticking each other. The whimsy! The romance! And we'd get one trip around the body de-ticked, and they'd already have multiplied so that we had to start over! Alex was able to take his shirt off and leave it behind, but all I could lose were my socks, shoes, and bra. We were throwing ticks out the windows all the way home, literally every minute or so. Is that even the best part? NO! The best part, and the reason that the world should be thankful that the Millers do not live next door to them or in any suburban setting, is that once we arrived home, we shucked every stitch of our clothing in the driveway and left our tick-infested wardrobe in a heap, then proceeded into the house naked and fighting for the shower. I won. The rest of the evening was spent in a tick-induced paranoia, because we could feel them all the time, whether they were there or not...but they usually were. I actually engaged a friend in helping me to research what kind of neurological damage I would do to myself were I to apply the dogs' Frontline Plus to the back of my OWN neck. I'm not kidding.

The worst of it for me was that first three days, because I've always reacted badly to even mild tick-bites (and thankfully, mild ones were all I had, although I stopped counting at FIFTY). I ran a low-grade fever, and could only stay sane by basically staying sedated. Benadryl inside and out, and more hydrocortisone cream than you could shake a stick at, plus jewelweed soap (if you ever get poison ivy, I'll whomp you up a batch).

Alex, on the other hand, was bitten savagely on the legs, possibly because he just HAD TO WEAR SHORTS AND WHITE SOCKS TO TICKSYLVANIA, resulting in some lesions which, a week later, have the appearance of...something bad.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever? Maybe. Lyme Disease? Possibly. Bloodwork was performed for both today, and he has already been started on a round of doxycycline just in case, since we won't have the results for two more days. He's also had a dose of Benadryl and a sleeping pill, so I'm not expecting him to wake up for a while. Which is good, because he mostly moans and asks me to rub unguents into his leprosy.

And what of all that poison ivy, you ask? Well, like I said, we fairly well rolled and dragged ourselves through the stuff, but Alex got the worst of it, partly because he made his way up the cliff using arm-power without benefit of a rope, and partly due to my inherited near-immunity to the oils of the poison ivy plant. I didn't escape unscathed, though. I'm not bullet-proof against the stuff, it just takes more than casual contact for me to be affected. And since my arms were pretty well dragged through the oily leaves, I have a couple of blisters to show for it, this being the worst, on my left forearm:
Meanwhile, Alex looks like he has a form of flesh-eating virus. We're hoping he doesn't lose the arm.
Cue massive outpouring of sympathy...now. :-(

And yes, I realize that I switched narrative tenses in the middle of this story. I do that a lot, sometimes even back and forth again. This is why I'm not a novelist.

More photos here.


  1. Oh, dear Lord. Alex looks horrid! Hope the Benadryl keeps him comfortable, or at least lets him sleep.

    (I am SO glad we don't have stinging weeds here, or I'd be in trouble. I'm oblivious to flora on hikes - too busy looking at/for rocks!)

    Hope you all feel better soon, and I'm glad that gorgeous camera made it through unscathed.

  2. I do not know what to say. I am stumped. I first want to tell you how STUPID you were to agree to this folly in the first place. You have a home, a television, and food. Why leave for a tick infested cliff. Did you even get any fish?

    Second...Alex. Oh Alex. There are things I could say. Many things. But I will keep my mouth shut. You are one lucky man, because if I were your wife, I would make you sleep with the horses and dogs.

    Thank GOD you did not take Bella.

  3. Definitely good you didn't take Bella.

    Quite the adventure....hopefully you will all be better soon.

  4. Massive outpouring of sympathy commencing. Ouch!

  5. This story had the ability to both capture and repulse me at the same time. Belinda is back!

    BTW, did you actually ever get any fish? And what was the verdict on the Frontline? Just in case I ever go cliff/tick/fish hunting in Arkansas. I would like to be prepared.

  6. We really do love to go fishing, and the lure (har) of the big ones was enought to tempt me down the cliffside. I give him a hard time, but Alex has never gotten me into anything he couldn't get me out of, so I trust him. There was never any question of taking Bella, because we knew we'd be hiking/climbing (just not how far). Nice size trout were caught, but we let 'em go again, since we already have a freezer full from the last couple of trips.

    The ticks this year! I don't even know what to say/think about the ticks here this year. I don't know if it's gonna be this way all over, but WOW, are we having tick problems. We sure didn't anticipate being set upon like that!

    The verdict on Frontlining yourself is...don't. Which makes me feel not great about doing it to the dogs.

    I still really want to fish for bigguns, but Alex says we'll have to wait until late fall now.

  7. What an absolutely classic story told by a wonderful writer. ;) I'm bookmarking this as one of my posts of the week for my weekly wrap up next Monday and thanking God for NaBloPoMo which if I recall is how I found you. ;)

    I do hope nothing evil comes from all the tick bites though.. :(


  8. That's a very interesting story about the dangers of hiking in Arkansas in the wild. Very well written too.

    I just hope you two feel better soon.

  9. This one smoked me out of lurkerdom (I've been enjoying your blog for a few months now.)

    First, LOTS of sympathy/empathy. I regularly come back from walks with my dogs with many ticks upon me and them, and occasionally one manages to bite before I feel it and get it off, but NOTHING like you describe. I think of myself as not particularly squeamish about ticks, but your description made my skin crawl in empathy. (In between, I have to admit, horrified laughter of the "Ohmigosh" kind.) And out here (California) it's poison oak, not ivy, but it's much the same experience, and no fun at all. So you have my heartfelt sympathy. (But doesn't it make for a good story, now that it's over?)

    By the end I was actually feeling some sympathy for Alex too. Poor guy, this was supposed to be his Father's Day treat. May he be all better soon.

  10. Wow, when you made some comments on Flickr about ticks, I thought you were exaggerating. This will teach me to never, ever doubt you again!

  11. Holy crap, woman!! Give him a big hug for me!! (Well, not really because you might...uh...catch something...but at least TELL him, "HUUUUGS.")

    That would never happen at our humble abode. We both hate the outdoors as far as adventure is concerned. Unless it's us being outside so we can get in our car for a roadtrip.

  12. the ticks this year.... they are like that everywhere in AR and SW corner of MO... Had to laugh at your comment about non DEET repellent. Had the same experience over Memorial Day. I swear that no-Deet spay just provides ticks w/ traction. I'm never going back again.

    You my dearest blogger are a saint. Not only are you still in love, but you have your first miracle (immunity ot poison ivy) documented.

  13. damn! you make it seem more worthwhile to view the outdoors from the safety of indoors!

  14. WOW. I'm feeling the sympathy for you both right about now.

    I think you picking the "spot" from now on would be a GREAT idea. However, his was beautiful.

    Hope you get to feeling better!

  15. Is this for real? I can't believe how horrible that all turned out. You must really love your husband.

  16. OMG Belinda! I am sending good thoughts to Alex about the bloodwork. We've had some ticks already but our big problem in SoCal is massive amounts of fleas, but I've managed to keep Cookie off the Frontline so far this yaer by vacuuming a whole lot and combing through her (short) fur. Unfortunately, once an infestation takes place the more natural remedies don't do a damned thing.

  17. I am totally itching, and shivering, and getting completely paranoid and, and, and, ICCCCCKKKKKKY!

  18. Blogger is doing something strange, so you may get this comment 57 times.

    The Reader's Digest version is:

    #1:Doxycycline?YUCK. Keep him OUT OF THE SUN.
    B: Although I peed my pants a tiny bit picturing all of this, I also cried like a tiny girl thinking about how much you love each other. Seriously. Now, you two get out there & FIND ME A MAN!

    Give him hugs and such. I hope he feels better very soon & has nothing worse than a fever.

    Glad Bella wasn't there!

    Love to you all!

  19. Ayee!

    That stinks. I hope you are both feeling a bit better.

  20. Thank you all...
    Mandy, we're working on it!

    Mrs. K, The Frontline, ugh. We don't use it as directed, but if we see ticks, we dose everyone. Haven't had a real flea problem yet. Also, judging from flickr comments (how come all my flickr commentors are from the West Coast?), I needs to move to Calli ASAP. Unless, you know, cost of living would be higher, or something.

    Peoples should come out of lurkdom more often. Am LOL at "giving ticks traction." And yep, I love him. Will soon be administering salves and unguents to what Bella is charmingly calling "Daddy's Disease."

    There are a couple of less disgusting posts up over at my AT blog, if any of you'd rather!

  21. Oh holy hell!

    You both need to come to Oregon and fish for Salmon.

    At least you can do that from the safety of a BOAT, and there are no ticks.

    Good god. I'm shivering. I hate ticks. The only thing that would've made that story worse is if the ticks brought along their cousins, the monster spiders.

    Oh, and I didn't even NOTICE the change in narrative tense til you said something. I was far too distracted by the EEEVIL!! :)

  22. Wow. It was a really nice place. But not that nice as to go through that to get to it. I hope you aren't planning on going back!

  23. Okay the fact that you can even admit that you still love him after THAT is a-MA-zing.

    But I do hope that the Lyme/Rocky Mountain Fever stuff comes out negative. I have a friend with Chronic Lyme and that is NOOOO walk in the park.

    You made me all itchy, btw.

  24. That's one of the best/worst fishing stories ever...
    AND why, last weekend, while my husband was trout fishing, I sat in the car with the sunday paper and peanut M & M's.

  25. It sounds like we could swap Arkansas tick stories all day, though I think you win. We got attacked once at Pea Ridge Battlefield and just when I thought I was healing from the bites I found one camped out in my eyelid. My husband pulled it out with fingernail clippers because we were poor students and I guess we couldn't afford anything safer. That took some trust!

  26. OMG- I was crying with laughter up until the return home- "dipped in molasass", "flames shooting out of my mouth" & poor hubby with the pitiful "I'm sorry" & "I love you" made me have to leave my desk for fear of a passerby investigating my tears.
    The results of the "adventure" look & sound horribly painful- I hope the lab results are of a positive nature.
    I do have to add that my 1st ever-lovin' decided that a float trip in AK would be the perfect honeymoon (did I mention he is now the ex-ever lovin'?) I missed out on the ticks, thank God, but had a similar problem with sheer cliffs, poison ivy, & a run-in with a bank-side crawdad (you know the kind- 2 in long body, 4 in long claw)that objected to my sitting on it & attached itself to my nether regions- damn thing drew blood & put a damper on the evening's activities.