Ouch. The Vanishing America Project, part deux (and that’s all the clever names I’m going to use for now)

I won’t even try to explain it to them.

I know they’re going to be intrigued, shocked, disgusted… whatever… once they see the bites. But I know, too that they aren’t going to have the patience to hear the story. They want simple answers so they can go back to worrying about their own survival. I want to tell someone. Partly because I want the attention, but more because I don’t know what the hell bit me and I need to know in case that creature is still lurking in my home somewhere.

Okay, now that you’re totally lost, let me back up a little bit…

I was working at my computer late last night and noticed an itch on my elbow. So, I scratched it. But the itch didn’t go away. I thought to myself, “oh, great. mosquitoes.” Then went back to my work with one eye on the screen and the other working in tandem with my ears to keep a lookout for those tiny little kamikazes. Well, the itch got to be unbearable, so I took a closer look. I wish I hadn’t. There was a tiny pinprick of red in the center of a pink, irregular mound of swollen tissue about the size of a nickel. Like a mosquito bite gone crazy. I was concerned, but there were no signs of poison damage, so I tried to ignore it. After a bit, I noticed another itch on my shoulder. Same thing. Red. Swollen. Then two on my left index finger. Okay, now I’m worried.

There is no pain, so I feel better about the likelihood of the bites being from something poisonous. But what bothers me is that I don’t recall being bitten. Anywhere. Was it from an insect that lives near my desk? Did the critter come from my new indoor plant? Or, was I bitten earlier in the day and only just now began to show symptoms? I have no clue, so I slather on the ointment and try to get some sleep.

The next morning, the bites are still there. And they are as itchy as ever. And that brings me back full circle. I’m getting ready for work and was debating “showing off” my bites in an effort to discover the source. Geez, I sound like a character in The Matrix. The Source, indeed. Well, knowing my co-workers, I won’t get much satisfaction from sharing my burden (after all, they have their own burdens to bear), and I decide to keep my mouth shut.

And, as I write this story, it takes me back to a recent trip through the Cherokee National Forest and an encounter with some angry homeowners whose home I wanted to use for firewood…

It was 2010 and I was at the tail end of a three-day excursion into Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest. I had camped by a beautiful stream with a natural swimming hole, a clearing to park the Rover and plenty of room to spread out.

My first task was to collect firewood. I was making a good pile of small logs and branches, but I needed some starter wood, so I went looking for a rotted stump. A few yards into the woods I found the perfect stump. Rotted and dry and ready to burn. As I was pulling parts of the stump out of the ground, I felt a sharp burning sensation on my arm. Then I felt another. And another. And, before I know it I’m engulfed in a cloud of yellow jackets. Swinging and swatting I made a bee-line (no pun intended) to the creek and jumped in the pool. COLD! It was the middle of summer, but this mountain stream was chilly.  It got the jackets off of me, but the damage was done. A handful of ibuprofen and a couple of stiff drinks and I forgot all about the swarm. Until the next morning, that is. I don’t know about you, but when I get stung, it hurts at first, but then it itches. And damn if those things didn’t start itching.

That’s what I’m feeling now, but without the sting and 10 times itchier. The welts look the same as the ones the jackets gave me for stealing their house, but these were not caused by any stinging swarms. I never felt these until the itch came on, so I have no idea what they’re from.


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