“Seed Ticks!” A Brand-New Column from Eric Church

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of Eric Church’s column, “Church Country,” in the all-new Field & Stream print journal. Become an 1871 Club member to receive the first issue, or you can purchase individual issues here.

I had just come off the road from supporting my first album, Sinners Like Me. Thirteen guys on a twelve-bunk bus, smelling of urine and whatever air freshener Glade was hawking at the time. Very little money and, more alarmingly, even smaller record sales. Sweaty clubs, dreary rock bars, dirt-filled county -rodeos, and the occasional half-empty theater left me wondering if my love for my chosen profession was noble or just insane. All that work had left me broke, and nearly broken. I was looking forward to a few days off in my favorite time of the year in Nashville—early spring. 

I was with my then girlfriend, now wife, Katherine, and her dad had come into town wanting to show us a piece of property for sale he’d stumbled across just outside the city. I was still in the try-to–impress-the-girlfriend’s-parents phase of our relationship and not thinking clearly. So I agreed to see the property. 

I rolled out of bed at the crack of noon and met Katherine and her father, who in the right sunlight looks like a cross between a wild-eyed Albert Einstein and a Q-tip with legs: Thin, full mane of white hair, and eyebrows like late-fall caterpillars. He also had an unwavering sense of danger and often-misguided adventure. Yes, I had liked him immediately. 

So off we went—Katherine and me in my late-model Chevy pickup, and her dad in the car ahead of us—to see a piece of property I didn’t want and couldn’t afford. 

It was going to be a productive day off. 

Speed Demons 

We headed west of Nashville at speeds that were unsafe even in a high-speed chase. As I tried to keep up with the ball of energy in front of me, I remember thinking, This senile maniac either forgot we’re behind him, is trying to lose us, or is putting me through some kind of test to get a sense of my driving ability. The real warning sign should’ve been Katherine’s inability to react to the chaos that was playing through my Silverado’s cracked windshield. She seemed shockingly unfazed. You know what they say about apples and trees.… 

Anyway, I had been hanging on for dear life, lightly sweating from our multiple brushes with death, before we eventually arrived at a rusted metal gate nearly hidden by chest-high grass with a sign that read in big, bold, red letters: no trespassing. 

As Captain Q-tip popped out of the vehicle and started examining the gate, I half expected him to pick the lock, but alas, after multiple jerks and rattles on the chain.… Padlocked. I started to breathe a sigh of relief: We came, we saw, the place was locked. Let’s go back, crack a cold one, and watch the game. 

Nope. Not so fast. 

Captain Q-tip approached the -driver-side window of my truck. I rolled it down. 

“Locked, huh?” I said, trying to sound disappointed. 

“Yeah, but that’s no problem,” he responded nonchalantly. “I really want to get up on that knoll to get a sense of the slope of the acreage.” 

To me, it looked like how I imagine the Grand Canyon appeared to early explorers. Straight uphill, twisted chest-high grass mixed with briers and field burrs. Before I could utter the words, “Are you nuts?” Katherine cheerfully said, “Let’s go for it!” 

Captain Q-tip scaled the locked gate before disappearing into the grass like a lion on the Serengeti. As Katherine started to do the same, I protested and pointed out my lack of proper pants and boots for the bushwhacking ahead of us—but like her old man, as soon as she dropped on the other side of the gate, poof, she was gone.

I paused and considered my options. I let out a long breath, then scaled the fence myself and immediately learned two things: One, the grass was actually head-high and was impossibly thick. Two, my future father-in-law’s breakneck pace of driving also translated to his pace of hiking. The way he moved, I was sure we were being chased. My steps were a poetic mixture of stumbling and cursing the fact that we were completely blind to our current direction, much less where this damn knoll was. I gave it a good go as far as trying to impress the girlfriend’s dad goes, but eventually I’d had enough. I yelled ahead that I was turning back. 

The two of them continued to move like jaguars in the night, leaving me to fight my way back alone. I got lost twice before I reached the truck, bleeding and sweating profusely. About an hour later, Captain Q-tip and his daughter returned too—both also sweaty and bloodied. 

This Means War

Our drive home was quieter and at a slightly slower pace, and more than once Katherine commented that it felt like things were crawling on her. I chalked it up to imagination, though, because every time I swore that I felt little legs crawling to my nether regions, I could see nothing on my skin. 

When we reached our townhouse, we all went inside to enjoy the air -conditioning—completely unaware of the contagious affliction our respite would cause. More than once, we all started to scratch at imaginary creatures. I looked closely at my clothes and could swear they were moving micro-scopically. So I decided the prudent thing was to go shower off. 

Feeling slightly better after the shower, I walked downstairs and found Katherine and her dad frantically checking each other in the bathroom mirror, pawing at their skin and pontificating on the cause of their symptoms. After much debate, Captain Q-tip said two words that still make me shudder as I write them.

“Seed ticks,” he said. “I hope it’s not seed ticks.”

“Seed ticks?” I asked. I’d never heard the phrase.

“They are baby ticks in nymph form,” he replied. “Hard to see.”

Still skeptical, I grabbed a magnifying glass we happened to have in the cheap survival kit in our kitchen drawer. You know the size—perfect for making a small ember out of tissue on a hot July day or for frying the legs off the occasional June bug. Anyway, I brought the glass to where they were evaluating each other and placed it up to my future father-in-law’s white T-shirt.

The image under the lens was otherworldly. 

Millions—and I mean millions—of what looked like pulsating masses were mustering their troops and setting off at the speed of misery to embed themselves invisibly in the peaceful battlefield of our flesh. I was aghast. I frantically put the lens on Katherine. It was even worse. Like the beaches of Normandy or the courtyard of the Alamo—these bastards were out for blood.

Katherine and Captain Q-tip were asking about the cause of my ashen face and frantic silence when a thought occurred to me. I took the lens over to where we had sat down upon our return. Armageddon was already underway. Literally nothing was uncovered, including, to my dismay, my freshly showered bare feet and legs, as the multitude had already identified my thoroughly scrubbed flesh as a new front line in their diabolical war. We were under attack and the casualties would be immense. 

Each day brought more bites, more itching, more bloodied scabs. We looked like the afflicted from the Dark Ages. Nowhere was safe. Including my truck, where we had left behind a trove of re-inforcements that would torment my drives for weeks. We tried cleaning. We tried disinfectants. We tried vacuums. I even tried using Quincy Jones, our miniature pinscher, as a real-life Swiffer Power Mop, hoping the ticks would attach to her and leave the humans unscathed. She had a great time thinking that I was playing with her as I ran her up and down nearly every surface of our condo. 

This went on for weeks. Finally, like all wars, this one came to an end none too soon. 

Later that summer, I was telling one of my contemporaries in country music this story, and he laughed hysterically at the absurdity of it. About a month later, as I was driving in my now drivable truck, a song came on the radio by that same contemporary. The title? “Ticks.” 

As for my part of the story—and thanks to the all-knowing wisdom of my future father-in-law, Captain Q-tip—I bought the property, married the girl, bush-hogged the grass, and built a cabin on a lake that would lead to years of -pleasure, fishing respite, and inspiration. 

I just wish I would’ve written the damn song. 

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