Mountain Musings

Ticked off at the blood-sucking vampires of the Santa Lucias

Special to The CambrianApril 11, 2013 

I would rather take my chances with the vampires in the “Twilight” series books and films than with their lesser cousins, the vampires of the Santa Lucia Mountains — the blood-sucking ticks of Cambria’s backcountry.

Ticks make me I wish I were a dog. Have you ever noticed how many flea and tick preventive treatments there are for dogs? Lots. Have you ever looked for flea and tick prevention products for people? That’s what I’m talking about.

For those of us who live in the local mountains, ticks are a fact of life. I used to think the tick was a summer problem but, apparently, it can be found out and about all 12 months of the year. Because of this, I’ve become more and more reluctant to go outside, especially after my last tick encounter a few weeks ago.

While I was at work, my leg suddenly felt like I’d slammed it against the corner of a desk. My calf was very swollen, and there was a target of red in the middle of the swelling. At the center of the ring was a tiny black thing. TICK! My husband John, the best tick remover I know, came to the rescue and twisted that sucker out. All I could think of with the suspicious bull’s eye of red and the swelling and pain was that I was going to die of Lyme disease.

I confess that, on company time, I immediately dialed the Public Heath Department to express my concern and was told that if the tick wasn’t engorged (hadn’t had lunch before being kicked out of the eating establishment that is my leg), that I didn’t have to worry. Whew! What a relief. The site of my vampire encounter stayed swollen and tender for several days, but I had dodged the Lyme disease bullet, which was all I cared about.

Sometimes I find a tick on my skin or clothing after being outside for no more than 30 seconds. Ticks are the stealth vampires of the insect world. You cannot hear them and often cannot even feel them. I have literally walked from the patio to the garage on our stepping stones and come back in the house with a tick. Tell me how they manage that.

In my cursory research on the subject of ticks, I learned that there are three varieties in California — Ixodes pacificus, Dermacentor occidentalis and Dermacentor variabilis. One variety would be plenty, if you ask me. It’s hard to say which one got me. Before this incident, I thought a tick was a tick was a tick.

It is ticking me off to think that if I hadn’t become aware of my latest tick when I did that my last column could have been my last column. People do die of Lyme disease, right? I’m certainly not young, but I’m not fond of the idea of leaving this life because of a Lyme-infected Santa Lucia vampire.

Marcia Rhoades’ column is special to The Cambrian. Email the resident of Cambria’s mountain community in the Santa Lucia range at

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