“Ow!” my husband, Andrew, yelped as he inadvertently sliced his thumb while uncorking a bottle of wine.  (Don’t worry—he won’t operate the cheese board.)

“What the…” I saw some blood and grabbed a paper towel.  Later, as I helped him apply the Band-Aid, he worried aloud about decreased tactility, i.e. how would this (very minor) injury impact his BlackBerry usage?

I admit I rolled my eyes.  I might have made a snarkyish comment.  That’s probably when I crossed into… Tempting Fate.


The next day we were approaching week’s end still with a bunch of patient veggies from a copious CSA share.   I went into Mediterranean high gear: tian de courgettes via Elizabeth David and a salsa cruda dip riff on a Chez Panisse recipe.  Finally, with only two eggplants standing, I planned another Alice Waters excursion to the land of summer produce.  After methodically slicing onions and garlic, I warmed them in a luxurious blend of butter and olive oil.  In the fragrant interregnum, I dashed to the deck for fresh thyme where…

…Fate awaited.

As I reached into the herb planter, I brushed across the tops of the basil and… yowl!  Something bit me.  Or scratched me.  What the…?

Not a mosquito.  I know mosquitoes, am often dined on by mosquitoes and this, sir, was no mosquito.  Or spider.  Or bee.  (Ditto and ditto.)  I took a closer look and saw a plant of similar height and vaguely familiar features that I recalled plucking from the soil at the four-leaf stage many times.  The simmering onions and garlic were sending their aromatic “return to stove” message so, distracted—and this is the really stupid part—I grabbed it with my index finger and thumb at the base and tore it from the planter.

“OW!” I yelped as 1) the full-force of the first contact and 2) the second direct infliction of the prickles (which I noticed on the plant even as I fool-heartedly yanked on it), took their toll on my unprotected skin.  Did I mention I was not wearing gloves?  Did I mention I was supposed to be cooking dinner with these same, now very tender digits?

Back inside, I turned off the stove and raced upstairs to the medicine cabinet, pondering the culprit.  Not poison ivy or oak…the leaves were very pointy is that poison sumac?  I should probably go look it up but I didn’t want to touch anything, reference book or keyboard, at the risk of spreading the urushiol.  My only close encounter with poison oak happened years ago in the Southern California canyons.  (Never saw the beastly vine but it sure saw me!)  It took many painful, itchy weeks to heal so I’m very cautious in the underbrush.  But this is my deck planter, not the deep woods!  Where’s Siri when I don’t know I need her?!*

And what the duck was that weed?  Since I’d already tossed it into the pumpkin patch and was certainly not going in after it, I had only a pain-tickled memory of the Bad Seed on which to base a diagnosis.  The more I thought about it, though, it didn’t seem like poison ivy or its nefarious brethren.  That stuff gets you stealthily, it’s only later after you’ve spread it around that you feel the aftermath of its potent kiss.  This thing stung instantly…and kept on stinging.  I flashed on those stories in NY Times Magazine where they try to figure out what’s wrong with a patient using only the clinician’s wits on an array of mysterious symptoms.  But who needs some big city expert?  I called mom.

“Stinging nettle,” she guessed (got it in one word, too– prickles.)  I went “duh” and although I’d never encountered this particular species, I thought I detected a family resemblance to dead nettle, a familiar East Coast bedding plant. Shortly after thanking her, I verified the diagnosis and proceeded to try all the remedies.  Because it still hurt like a…well, it still hurt.

As I dumped our now-ruined dinner and directed my husband to re-heat leftovers, I mused on the weirdness:  How did stinging nettles get in the planter in the first place?  I had bought containers for our edibles precisely so that I could control as many of the inputs as possible: USA-made, untreated wood planters; organic soil; organic plants or seeds; natural fertilizers.  It’s true that I didn’t control the chemical composition of the rain, the sprinklers or the air, but, hey, just give me time!

Do nettles propagate through airborne seeds?** Why aren’t they all over the yard then? (I pick through our flowerbeds from time to time and have never seen ‘em.  I think.)  And these baby nettles, the two to four starter leaves that I’ve been dutifully pulling from the veggie beds, showed up for the first time this year and only in the raised or planter beds.  Which were all filled with potting soil from the same place!

Ah ha!

My satisfaction with mystery-solving lasted about as long as it took me to realize this might be an on-going problem in the raised beds.  So much for maintaining the soil from year to year (and I can’t just dump it into the ornamentals—that would be called out of the frying the pan into the other frying pan!)  Then, later that night as I drifted off to sleep, holding my poor wittle finger on the outside of the sheets, it suddenly occurred to me.

How was I going to post to my blog tomorrow if I can’t type?



*I hesitate to call this the Revenge of Steve Jobs, Part II, but…

**According to About.com, no.  Rhizomes, underground root system—not good.


Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes