Last night, an intruder woke me. They had entered the house, undetected and worse- crept into my bed...
This is a rather dramatic way of saying that I found a tick in my bed last night. Actually, I woke up because it was crawling up the inside of my leg - no doubt preparing to latch onto my flesh and feast on my blood for the next few hours. Throwing back the duvet and turning on the light, I saw what looked like a tiny spider. I've been bitten by a spider once before - on my face - whilst I slept! I found it squished on my pillow the next morning, but not before it had inflicted the most painful bite I've ever had. So I've been a bit wary of creepy crawlies in my bed ever since. My husband, now also awake thanks to the blinding light and me leaping around like a mad woman, took a look and calmly reassured me that it was in fact a tick, no doubt brought in by the dog. Needless to say, it took me a while to get back to sleep, I've read a lot of information about ticks - and none of it was good. A bite from a tick here in Illinois means an immediate trip to the doctors and a course of antibiotics.
It's struck me on more than one occasion whilst walking through the parks and forests here, that I could be anywhere. I sometimes imagine that I'm still in England - the green grass, the lavender bushes and roses growing outside my door could be in any English country garden. But a closer look - and listen - soon reveals evidence of the foreign and unfamiliar.
Whether it's the frog mating chorus from the lakes each evening or the screaming cicadas that emerge every 13 or 17 years (who knew?) - as loud as any car alarm - there's plenty of noise from the local wildlife. Bright, colourful birds call foreign tunes - and although impressive in their hues: canary yellows, brilliant blues and fiery reds - I miss the humble black bird and wood pigeon and the evening murmuration of starlings.
I wondered why we never saw any cats here, it's not that Americans don't have cats, they do, but they are almost all house cats, kept indoors 24/7. When we asked our cat-loving friends why, they explained that coyotes and raccoons pose a real threat to domestic cats. And they can even take on smaller dogs. Another reason to keep ours on a lead.
I'm used to squirrels, but here, you're just as likely to see chipmunks racing up trees and being mischievous. And then there's the skunks. Not so long ago, we witnessed an entire lane of traffic stopped on the highway so a mama and her troop of tiny skunk babies could be herded (do you herd skunks?) back to safety by a fireman with a snow shovel... not a sight you see everyday. They looked so cute you could almost forget the stench they can cause. That fireman may well have needed hosing down himself!
Sometimes, in the late evening, when we take our little dog for his bedtime walk, there's a strange smell in the air. It's herbal, with undertones of rotting flesh... there's a skunk on the prowl. Apparently, the best way to get rid of the smell, should your pet pooch get a spray of eau-de-skunk, is to dowse them in pasta sauce. I can't see our terrier being too bothered by that - he's a big fan of Bolognese.
This morning I found myself googling poo. There's strange, formless deposits all over our garden, the like of which I've never seen before. So far the poo ID parade has failed to throw up a match. I've eliminated most suspects: raccoon, skunk, goose, coyote, but nothing matches the piles of alien goo that keep appearing. Just in case you're eating your breakfast, I'll spare further details. Most people take photos of their food to post on Instagram and Facebook- I'm considering a 'name that poo' competition*.
Whether it's birdsong or biting insects, there's much about the nature here that takes some getting used to. But like everything else: food, weather or day-to-day life, you soon grow accustomed to its unique charm. Though to be honest, I'm not sure I'll ever be charmed by ticks in my bed and piles of poop in my garden. Luckily, the butterflies are pretty awesome.
* Late edit: The gardener just informed me it's not poo... it's fungus, some further googling tells me it's slime mold. Which is nice.