Ticks are bad this year. It is spring, and our dogs have ticks. I have sprayed them, collared them, brushed them, and washed them, and still the big creatures have little creatures attached. I remove the bugs whenever I find them. I carefully kill each one. I am no longer squeamish about ticks. They are part of life here, like tractor noise and dust and smelly pilgrim boots.
In the last few days, when I sat down on my end of the sofa to write, twice I have found a little black tick walking across the skin on the back of my neck. I carefully killed each one. I try not to be squeamish about them. But when they are walking on ME, (even though the vet assures me the local ticks don´t bite humans, and they are very seasonal), I get squeamish. Where do they come from? Are they living in the sofa, in my clothing? Are they living on me? Will people see, and know? Will they wonder if they will get ticks, too, from visiting here? Are we unclean, unsanitary, nasty, bad people?
Today we cleaned the living room, removed the rugs, vacuumed out the sofa and chairs, washed the floors and cushions dog beds. No bugs anywhere.
It was only after dinner, after everyone else went to bed, I found the second little critter.
We have three German pilgrims staying with us tonight. They are nice men, smart, educated, professional. I wonder if, as we discussed over Rueda Verdejo the ages-old merger of Daimler and Chrysler, if they might have seen a shiny black bug walk casually over my collar-bones and into the collar of my shirt. I wonder what they might have thought, whilst puzzling out my conjugations of verstehen, if their beds are infested. But they went willingly enough to sleep there in the salon, so I think I am safe. For now. I am not infested. I am clean, and healthy, and decent enough, and my house is as scrubbed as it will ever be.
I looked at the bug. It made me think.
It is a tiny creature with a shiny black coat and many legs. It is subtle and quiet, its movements almost indetectable. It does only what it is designed to do. It is unaware and unaffected by its repugnant rep among humans. It gets on with its business.
I thought of the greyhounds, and Rosie, and Perla, the neighbor´s little grey-black dog. Perla looks like a charcoal drawing of a dog, she is all cute scruff and fur and yap. Rosie is about the same size as Perla, and she likes to bark at the gate of Perla´s house when we pass by, just to make trouble.
And this morning, trouble happened. Perla was loose. Paddy was coming home from the morning hike with all four of our dogs. Tim ran up to the little pup to say hello, wagging his stumpy tail. Rosie ran after, yapping. Lulu the greyhound, seeing all that small-dog leaping, went hysterical on the end of her lead, slipped her specially-designed greyhound collar, and leapt full-speed down the street and instantly pinned the pup. Harry promptly followed. The poor little dog was overwhelmed. Paddy fell down.
Thank God somehow the petrified Perla was extracted from the fray before any real damage was done.
A badly shaken Paddy reappeared in the house soon after, with our four sheepish dogs in tow. The greyhounds were shut inside the barn, disgraced. Rosie hid herself away. Only Tim, the Besty Dog, was allowed in the house. It was a long, sad morning. Paddy finally went over to Perla´s house, to make sure everything was OK. Pilar, Perla´s owner, seemed bemused by the whole affair.
Spaniards are amazingly matter-of-fact about dog behavior. "Dogs are animals," they say with a shrug.
Lulu was born and raised to hunt and kill hares. She is not an intelligent dog, but she is a skilled hunter. And any animal, cat or dog, rabbit or mouse, that moves quickly along the ground and squeals when she bites it is fair game to her. It is her nature. Like a tick, she can´t help but do what she is meant for.
It is up to We the People to ensure she does her thing far from where she can kill pets or livestock. (She and Nabi killed one of Julia´s hens last year.) As dogs go, Lulu is a problem child. We love her very much, but we have to do something about her behavior.
We need to get real with ourselves.
Maybe four dogs is just too much. Maybe we need to get rid of Lulu, a neurotic at best, and a sociopath at worst. Perhaps we ought to start keeping Tim and Rosie outdoors, so they can´t bring vermin and dirt inside. And Murphy Cat, whose white fur is ingrained in the cushion of his favorite chair. I have asthma. This can´t be good for me.
If we did not have so many animals, we could live in a smaller place that did not require so much backbreaking, expensive, ongoing maintenance. Seeing as the pilgrim traffic is pretty much cared-for now by Bruno, we don´t need so much extra space. It wouldn´t be so much housework for me. We wouldn´t need to bring in people like Thomas and Kim and Dael to help us maintain the place.
Without extra people around, we wouldn´t need a vegetable garden, or so many hens. We wouldn´t be troubled by out-of-the-blue Germans, or beautiful word-of-mouth Kiwi massage-goddesses, or the niggling need to design a new sello stamp for pilgrim credentials. We could read books all day, and grow orchids, and write our memoirs.
We wouldn´t be allergic, or dusty, or overwhelmed in summer. We would not spend so much money.
And we wouldn´t be The Peaceable Kingdom any more.
Like ticks, and greyhounds, we have to be what we are.