Bozo leans in close to show his affection and earn pat on the head. He nudges me with his muzzle. An enormously engorged tick, grey and egg-like with creepy little legs waving, and full of bozo’s blood, falls off and onto the table beside me.
Upside down, and weighted by its fluid cargo, the prehistoric creature’s tiny little legs scratch helplessly at the air.
“Jeez, Bozo, you’re swell company,” I say, picking up the little blood-engorged egg with legs, tossing it into a thick stand of thistle just outside the fence line. “Every time I pet you, a tick falls off.”
It’s tick season, the worst I’ve seen in years.
Bozo belongs to farmhands who live a quarter-mile up the creek from our blueberry patch; he visits me every day and he comes loaded with ticks.
I started once to remove them and realized he had more ticks than I had time for. I just remove the obvious ones now—or they simply fall off.
He owns the fields out here—sort of. He’s a powerfully built pit bull and the sweetest dog I’ve ever met and he likes to run free at the farm, barking at cows and strange cars rumbling down the dirt road, and picking up ticks.
Mostly, when I’m in the field taking care of the blueberries, he stays with me. He follows me down the rows of plants, sniffs at gopher holes, or wanders away to another part of the farm, only to return to hang out in the shade or lay in the grass.
“Oh, he loves you,” more than one visitor has observed.
When I cross the bridge to the farm each day, he sprints ahead of my truck, charging full speed to the gate where he waits excitedly until I jump out and say hello and open the gate to let him inside.
I think he would come home with me if he could. One late afternoon he followed me more than a mile down the road as I drove away to go home. He just kept coming and coming and wouldn’t turn back. Finally, he tuckered out and stopped and stood still in the middle of the road until I passed out of view.
Occasionally, when cows graze nearby, lingering outside the fence, he bolts from the enclosure to chase them down. He charges up one side of the fence line and down the other. Little calves skitter nervously up the hill, as the mature cows, unfettered by Bozo’s charging presence, continue to chew grass.
One cow turns to face him as Bozo zeroes in. Bozo stops in his tracks, turns tail and comes running back. He’s not a fighter, nor is he much of a hunter, but he’s sweetheart.
He tries hunting gophers and field mice but isn’t very good at it. I’ve watched him stare curiously—ears perked and head tilted—at a gopher hole as the gopher pops its head up and quickly ducks back safely into its hole.
He creeps up to the hole close enough to kiss the gopher but never seems to catch one.
“i wish you were a better hunter, Bozo,” I say.
He’s not like Zsu Zsi’s dog, “Sniffer,” who once nabbed three gophers inside of five minutes of his arrival, but not without tearing savage holes into the lines that irrigate our plants.
“It’s great to have him out here and catch those guys,” I say to Zsu Zsi, “but someone’s gotta stay with him to make sure he doesn’t break into our water lines.”
She decided it was too much trouble, and put her dog into the back of the truck. Sniffer doesn’t come out much any more.
Bozo digs for gophers too but not as fiercely or with as much drive as Sniffer. He gives up quickly, which is fine with me because it means fewer repairs.
While packing up for the day recently, I heard Bozo crunching on something hard with his powerful jaws and worried that he was chewing on a rock or bone or something.
“Whaddaya got there, Bozo?”
He looked content and the crunching continued. I stepped closer to see what he had in his mouth. He let it drop and out came the mangled corpse of a gopher, the one he’d been staring down, the one he could have kissed.
“Nice, Bozo. good job.”
It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him catch one and now I have a better idea why his breath sometimes reeks.
I’ve found ticks on me nearly every day for the last week. I’m guessing that most of them found their way via Bozo the carrier.
It pays to be vigilant. Fortunately, I get the creepy crawlies easily. The slightest twist of a hair out of place sends my hand scratching. Sure enough, I’ve found ants, beetles, dirt and ticks.
Lately, I’ve gotten into the habit of frequently peeking inside my shirt and scratching behind my neck.
Ben, our new hire with plenty of field experience and a hard worker, has been laughing at me. “Are you feeling ticks everywhere?”
“Yeah, every little thing, every little speck of dirt, gets under my skin right now,” I say, scratching and brushing off.
Bozo plops himself down on the grass beside us as we work on the plants. “Plus,” I add, pointing at Bozo, “this guy is full of them. i think he comes over here just to share them with us.” §