‘Dangerous’ Vermont fauna: leeches, ticks

This week’s writer is Bill Schubart, a Vermont entrepreneur, author and commentator on VPR. He writes about Vermont and the nation in fiction, humor and opinion pieces.
New Age Trigger Warning: The following column contains information that may be troubling to people with heightened sensibilities and little real world experience or who suffer from enhanced yuck factor syndrome.
Biologists claim the only life-threatening fauna in Vermont are the endangered timber rattlers making their homes in Benson. Benson wasn’t my first choice when I was looking for a home. It’s a nice town, but until I began stacking wood at age 24, I was even afraid of garter snakes, which often confuse woodpiles with condos. Even today, “slither shock” still elicits an adrenalin discharge but no longer paralysis.
I went to a fairly low-rent summer camp for a week on Lake Eden and, while there, first met leeches. We called them “bloodsuckers.” There were so many that the camp owner had a saltlick on the swimming dock so we could rub salt on them, causing them to disconnect, pucker up and fall back into the water. I was middle-aged when I first donated blood.
There were no ticks when I was young, except from the grandfather clock in the hall that didn’t keep time, but made weird mechanical noises and chimed at odd hours. I first learned of them when a friend told me a friend of his from Long Island was suffering horribly from a new disease called Lyme disease. I added both to my middle-age catalog of fears.
I met my first tick many years later. It had settled into my thigh. I felt an itch, looked down and saw some tiny little legs flailing in the air. I plucked it out, examined it and dropped it in the sink. It was a harmless large tick. The next visitor landed in the middle of my back and I couldn’t reach it. My wife was away. That night, I went to a party and a friend was there. I asked her if she would accompany me into the bathroom and remove my tick. We’re closer friends now. Nashville capitalized on the tick phenomenon with a hit single titled “Ticks.” “I wanna check you for ticks” is the new singles bar come-on.
Last week, I was doing my annual cattail harvest in our pond. I had never seen a leech in there in the ten years since we dug it. I was pulling cattails in about a foot of murky water and felt the usual polliwogs swimming around inside my swimming trunks. Then I began to feel some light stings and wondered if polliwogs had evolved into carnivores. I kept at it until I finished my harvest, swam around for a bit, and then emerged and pulled off my trunks to shake out the polliwogs. I gasped when I saw a good thirty leeches squirming around in the bottom of the bathing suit, the losers in a game of musical chairs unable to find any open thigh space left to attach to. I shook the losers out on the grass and returned the polliwogs to the pond. I then removed as many bloodsuckers as I could reach and walked up to the house, yelling for my patient wife’s help.
Standing naked on the lawn in a mooning posture with my beloved picking slimy hemovores off my nethers, our cheery UPS driver drove up and almost careened off into the vegetable garden. “Never been mooned by a customer before,” he yelled cheerily as he drove off after discretely leaving a package in the driveway.
So when Vermarketers tout the lack of dangerous fauna in Vermont, call me. I grew up here. Most of them did not.
P.S. The deer ticks I remove after my chainsaw forays into the woods prefer the needle tracks left by the bloodsuckers, so at least there’s less scar tissue.

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