Sunday, March 22, 2009

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.


  1. A really nice piece of writing-- Love the ending: "relentless & needle-toothed."

    I also used to think that way about nettle tea....

  2. Yes, this is wonderful. I use nettle shampoo in summer as it is wonderful for the scalp. We too used ferns to assuage the nettle's pain. I was taught that for every injury in the forest, a cure was nearby. This may be old wives tale but I still believe it to be true in my deepest heart.

  3. How about the nettle cheese we had in Ireland? Dee-lish...

  4. my first experience in the great northwest with nettles was with my oldest daughter who was under two at the time but had to touch and smell everything. we were out on this friends farm with chickens behind a pen and she saw these beautiful flowers and took a deep sniff.......oui oui oui, burns, burns and burns and many a tears. I was told she has sniffed NETTLES up her little nostrils. since then we all no now never sniff (smell) a nettle flower.

  5. Brava!

    Beautiful piece of writing, T.

  6. You have a great, great blog!

    Thanks for stopping by my site. I love the randomness of your "likes" on your profile. I feel we are somewhat sympatico.

    Your son's a cutie. Congratulations on his career path. I managed to get my then 14-year old son to bake 8 cakes during his summer vacation last year.

    I'll be stopping by your place again soon.

  7. Clever Pup -- welcome to my blog!
    And keep that son a'bakin'!