Saturday, March 03, 2012

Living with Vermin

Between the ages of 15 and 18 I lived in the north Georgia mountains in a place called Gilmer County. The nearest town to where we lived was a village named Ellijay. The foremost fact about this place that I often relate is that it was the inspiration for James Dickey's novel and film DELIVERANCE. For good reason, too.

However, we didn't actually live in Ellijay. My dad had purchased a tract of land of 120 acres and subsequently picked out a home site and had a road bulldozed down to it where he had a house constructed. When I tell people about the place they generally don't believe me. But here are the facts:

Our driveway was almost exactly one mile long. From our house the driveway led to a dirt county road known as Log Round Road. (I'd always thought the name was Log Ground Road, but when I finally saw the name in print, it was Log Round.) To get to the nearest paved road you had to hang a left on Log Round Road and drive roughly three more miles to get to a road that was actually topped with asphalt. Our nearest neighbor was two and a half miles distant. The nearest phone was about five miles from our house. (Recall that this was in the days before such things as cell phones.)

As far as the human inhabitants of the county, see DELIVERANCE. Both the novel and the film.

But this brief entry isn't about the folk who inhabited the land, but the bugs. And, in particular, a species of arachnid with which we were soon to become quite well acquainted: the scorpion.

Almost on my first visit to Gilmer County I found a scorpion. While dislodging rocks beside a road cut searching for fossils, I moved some slate to find not fossils, but living scorpions. I was only a kid at the time, no older than nine or ten, and had never seen a real scorpion, but I knew what they were. And I fled in horror.

The scorpion species that thrives in the mountains of north Georgia is not terribly dangerous. It can give you a nasty sting that I would equate with that of a big wasp or hornet. But it won't kill you. Over my time living in Gilmer County, I became familiar with the little bastards and discovered exactly what it felt like to get stung by them.

The first time one nabbed me I was sitting beside a stack of lumber my dad had put on the summit of the highest point of land on the property. Originally, he had toyed with the idea of building there, but later changed his mind when he considered the depth of the well he might have to have drilled. The views there were good, but on the mountaintop there was no ready access to water. But we were there one day and I settled down beside the lumber and leaned back, putting my hand on a piece of wood--probably a 1X6. As soon as my hand settled down I felt a sting and reacted. Pulling my hand away I saw that I'd put it down directly on one of the little brown scorpions and he had nabbed me in the web of flesh between my third and fourth fingers. It hurt! I reacted quickly and without really thinking I balled up my right (unstung) fist and used it to crush the little bastard.

I had already heard that they were not deadly so I wasn't too alarmed. Just pissed off.

Later, after our house went up at its location at the far end of that driveway down in the deepest valley on our property, we began to notice them around the house. Sometimes they'd be dead and just drying up in light fixtures. Or sometimes we'd catch one crawling across a window ledge. Then, as the months went on and they became more and more comfortable with our home, we'd find them in truly troubling spots. Sometimes when making the bed I'd peel back the covers and find one hiding in the sheets or under a pillow. Yes, that was sobering.

One morning I woke up and put on my shoes. As my right foot lodged solidly in my boot I felt a burning sensation. Yep. I immediately knew I'd been stung by a scorpion who'd thought it was a good place to hide. I quickly threw off the shoe and was able to find and kill this latest little bastard.

Over the years we lived there I was stung probably six times. When you're a teenager spending tons of time hiking and backpacking, forever under the big blue sky, you get used to being stung by everything that flies and creeps through the forest. You lose track of those little painful events.

But one time was special. It was my senior year in high school. One evening I'd gone to sleep and was snoozing along, resting comfortably. But then, suddenly, I was wide awake. I knew immediately why I was awake, of course. I was in pain. Specifically, my left upper arm was burning like fire. In the night I had rolled over on a scorpion and with the full weight of my body it had slammed its stinger home in the unprotected flesh of my arm.

I leaped up and swept back the cover, searching for the fucker. At first I couldn't find him, but knocking my pillow aside I saw that he'd retreated there. My arm still burning as if it had been seared by a hot iron, I took my rage out on the hard-shelled shithead. I crushed the damned thing until it was in many pieces.

Unlike the other times I'd been stung, this time was different. Because I'd actually rolled over on the arachnid, and my full weight had been pressing down on it, the thing had emptied the entire contents of its venomous glands into my muscles. Over the course of the next two weeks the point where I'd been stung swelled slightly, then crusted over like a bright orange scab. I kept it washed and swabbed with alcohol, waiting for it to heal. Then about fourteen days after the event, the crust crumbled away like white chaff, leaving a pale pink dot about the size of a quarter that slowly faded to match the rest of my arm as I went about my life.

My old pal, Vaejovis carolinianus

After that, I never got stung again. But it wasn't because they didn't try. I was just lucky after that. Toward the end, right before we moved away from the place, I pulled a shirt out of the clothes hamper and put it on without buttoning it all the way. Going to the kitchen counter to see about making a sandwich, I caught a movement in the periphery of my vision. I looked down at my chest to see the pincers of a scorpion sticking out of my shirt. This meant that the little shitwad's stinger was pointed directly at my stomach. Cold hilarity ensued as I first froze, then carefully used a butcher knife to flick the damned thing into the sink where I killed it with scalding water, boiling it like a lobster in a pot.

Sometimes I still miss that place.


MarkGelbart said...

I don't think I've ever gotten stung by a scorpion.

How does it compare to a wasp's sting?

HemlockMan said...

It hurts. About like a big wasp or hornet. The last time I got stung was really bad because I rolled over on the bastard and it unloaded all of its poison into my arm. That's why the severe reaction with the swelling and subsequent hard crust over the wound.

Another thing about scorpions is that they have an attitude. If they feel at all threatened they sting.