As a child, my neighbor, Katie, grew nettles
and strawberries: nothing else. Long before
I knew of the healing properties of nettles,
this baffled me to no end, as my friends and I
staged an all-out battle each spring and summer
to rid our beloved woods of as many of the
stinging pests as possible. Armed only with
hefty sticks -- for some reason this was our rule --
we whacked at nettles which often grew taller
than us, nettles so lush and deadly the task
loomed before us, an interminable toil.
Of course, we never went to war with Katie's
crop. And when someone finally mentioned
the notion of nettle tea, I could only imagine
a mouth swollen-shut with welts. We nursed
our own stinging ankles with sap from the root
of the fiddlehead fern, mashed to a sticky froth.
We believed it assuaged the pain, and so it did.
Katie was always ancient to me -- born ancient,
died ancient. While other mothers shed their housedresses
and began to sport denim and polyester capri pants,
Katie was a holdout in her stern black heels
(not unlike what nuns wore) and her floral dresses
with a hint of lace at the neck. A knock at her
front door brought handfuls of waffle-cream cookies,
or a nickel or more for the agates I sold door-to-door.
(Or what I thought were agates.)
Victor, her silent husband, adjusted to her death
by shutting off every room in the house save
the kitchen and one bedroom. Rumor was he
hunkered in front of an open oven all winter.
His weekly mowing contained then a larger
arc as his rough boots heeled-out the last of the
strawberries, and the only nettles that remained
were those which sprung up overnight on my path
through the woods, relentless & needle-toothed.