We live in farm country--beef, lambs, goats, fruit, cheese, milk. All around us are farm lanes, a network of dirt/gravel roads used by the farmers for generations to bring their animals to and from the pastures and their farm equipment home. They’re rough roads, often muddy in Belgium’s damp climate. They offer this city kid some wonderful rambles. They say you can go from here to Germany without ever hitting real pavement.
Today I took a walk down this lane. You can see the light dappling the lane, and the hedgerows on either side and the trees that make a tunnel for me to stroll through. What you can’t do is feel the gentle breeze and smell the new-mown hay. You can’t hear the bees buzzing or the cattle lowing or smell that almost-fall smell. I’m sorry that you can't, because it’s lovely. It’s a popular place to walk. I sometimes see my neighbors out for a constitutional.
As I walk along, I see these guys cooling off in the shade of the big trees. I can hear them gently lowing. I can smell them gently...nevermind.
I grew up in the Southeast US, prime blackberry country. But I never picked them, because in Georgia, where you have blackberries, you have chiggers. These are microscopic parasites whose bites ooze and itch for several weeks. I’m not kidding. I had roommates that didn’t stick around as long as chigger bites. They effectively kept me away from blackberries for many years. Blackberries grew all around me, but I had to BUY them if I wanted them.
So you can understand that when I walk down the farm lanes and see these growing in the hedgerows, I’m very happy. I can walk along and pick blackberries all day long and not have a single chigger bite to show for it! I think I’m in heaven. I think it’s free food. It is, I guess.
But wait a minute. I’ve discovered that the blackberries here are guarded not by chiggers, but by these. Stinging nettles. I’d heard most of my life about stinging nettles, but had never actually encountered one in person. We didn’t have them in Georgia. We had chiggers instead. If these nettles touch you, it burns and itches for about a day and a half. Bah. Nothing compared to chiggers! One day last month as I was picking blackberries, I stepped in a hole and in order to avoid falling into a bed of stinging nettles, I grabbed a big, bare handful of .... stinging nettles. Ouch. My whole hand burned for a couple of days, in spite of frequent applications of baking soda. But you know what? It was NOTHING compared to chiggers. And a small price to pay for wild blackberries. A small price to pay indeed.
Ouch, all the same.