Guernica Magazine

Beautiful in the Distance

The tick doesn’t know that it is strong enough to kill a full-grown human. It only knows that it is hungry. The post Beautiful in the Distance appeared first on Guernica.
Illustration: Ansellia Kulikku.

The wood tick that will give my dad Rocky Mountain Fever is born in a bed of blanket flower and yucca. It is deposited by an engorged female, one of nearly four thousand eggs. As soon as it detects atmospheric carbon—fresh air—on its dorsal shield, its red-brown body emerges into the world.

It is microscopic and as pestilent as a mosquito. Upon completing its larval life cycle, it enters its nymph stage and lights out, searching for a host. It leaves behind the dead flesh of a small mammal and drops to the forest floor, where it molts, hardens its shell, and grows two more legs. It will re-emerge from the undergrowth in its final phase, an adult hungry for one more mammal.

This is the spring my father comes to visit me out west, where I have managed, somehow, to finish college at a small state school in Montana.

Blood is a tick’s seasons, its ages and its episodes. It will feed only three times in its two-year life before it dies, each time molting into yet another version of itself.

I envy how the tick measures its life in such a singular and deliberate way. I will measure mine in messy, often overlapping interludes that may or may not include marriage, promotions, divorce, layoffs, sickness, and injuries. The tick’s life moves forward in distinctive stages, leaving one stage behind before it leaps into another, until it latches onto my dad’s leg.

He finds it on the morning of my graduation, just before he is taken away in an ambulance, hot with fever and as dehydrated as a California raisin.


My first memory is of Dad. I’m hovering.

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