Friday, August 10, 2007


As a child I found lots of natural areas to explore right here in Shreveport. Some of them - like the Stoner Woods - I was forbidden to enter because caring adults feared the threat of strangers. (I did venture in there once, as an adult, accompanied by a dog, and I quickly discovered that my parents' concerns had merit.) Anyway, while in Shreveport, I enjoyed a happy medium between having woods to play in, and having friends to play with.

As you may have deduced from the foreshadowing, I did have to leave Shreveport during my childhood, and I was not a happy camper. We bought a nice house in Doyline for a ridiculously low price (location, location, location). I was forced to change schools, and convert my best friends into pen pals. The town of Doyline was picturesque enough, and there were two schools (K-5, and 6-12), but our house was two miles from those schools. Our house was also two miles from the nearest store. There was no park. The library was a single room building among the antique store fronts on the one road in town. It was only open one day a week for a few hours.

I scanned the houses and trailers for any child my age. I found none. As to add insult to injury, the really cool log-cabin house was surrounded by a desert of turf grass.

Overgrown turf grass.

(The trees were somebody else's property. Of course, I know now that the woods in Shreveport were somebody else's property, too, but back then, I had never before considered that somebody owned - or could own - the woods.)

The first day my family stayed in that house, my whole family was plagued with bug bites. My whole family...except for me. At first, my parents were convinced that they had been swarmed by mosquitoes. These country mosquitoes, however, went for skin covered by snug cloth and elastic bands. After two or three days, they were still miserable, as the bumps on their skin were still itchy, red, and swollen. Worse yet, good ole' calamine lotion gave them no comfort.

I couldn't help but think in was karmic: The people who forced me to leave civilization were now driven mad with some kind of skin parasites they encountered at their country paradise. But meanness aside, I held the biggest clue to the problem...I did not have any bites (or whatever they were).

So let's use deductive reasoning: The itching bumps appeared on Tuesday on three people, but not the fourth. On Tuesday, all four family members crossed the front yard, brought in boxes, and dwelled in the house. Three people ventured out among the tall grasses to explore their new backyard. The fourth walked the road following the woods to find a property owner. If the fourth person acted as a control, then the variable of the experiment is the overgrown grass - the one place the fourth person did not go.

Serves them right. Stupid grass.

But seriously, whatever they encountered were obviously not mosquitoes. They we were about to learn from the locals...chiggers.

Chiggers are little bitty red mites that have a parasitic stage of their life cycle. You may actually be able to see the adults (harvest mites) if you sense movement well and look really hard. The larvae walk so lightly that you don't feel them on you, but once they pierce your skin and inject you with a salivary secretion, you'll feel them alright! The secretion contains powerful, digestive enzymes that break down your skin cells so that the chiggers can ingest them.

To board a host, chiggers climb up plant stalks and wait for something or someone to brush by. They only hang around for about four days, then drop off to complete the rest of their life cycle as upstanding members of the environment. Sometimes the skin remains irritated for a few days after the parasite has gone, but the itching that results from having microscopic quantities of your skin liquified and sucked out is incredible. To alleviate it, people have come up with all kinds 'remedies.' Paint the bumps with nail polish, pour rubbing alcohol on them, bathe in oatmeal, bathe in bleach, coat your skin in oil - you name it - someone has probably tried it.

During my family's first days at the new house, I escaped a chigger infestation, but I have not always been so lucky. I have had my share of chigger bites. I have also tried many of the home remedies. I seem to remember a product called "Chig-a-rid" that I painted over the bumps. It definitely worked better than nail polish. Not too long ago, I took my chiggers to the dermatologist. I thought it was high time to get some professional advice and prescription-strength products. I was surprised to discover that the dermatologist's advice was to add one cup of bleach to a hot bath and soak. "You can tolerate it," she said, "They can't."

No comments: