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Day 391: Adventures 'n' Stuff

Sunday, June 03, 2012

A fellow Sparkler posted this on her blog the other day:


Credit where credit is due - a tip of the hat to SELF_RESPECT. I left a comment along the lines of 'With my arms, standing beside me in a high wind could be lethal...' Truth will out.

* * *

Remember the fairy tale about the swan princes? Hans Christian Andersen has the most complete version, tho The Brothers Grimm recorded a Germanic folktale that's very similar.

A king has twelve children, eleven sons and one daughter, who is the youngest. When his wife dies, he remarries, not knowing that the new queen is actually a wicked witch in disguise. (And we wonder how the issues with stepparents developed.)

The stepmother is jealous of the children so she turns the boys into swans - they fly off - and she banishes the princess.

Wandering aimlessly in the forest the girl discovers a good fairy - well, this is a fairy tale, after all - who tells her she can save her brothers if she gathers nettles and makes them into shirts - one for each prince - which will turn them back into humans.

The catch (just to make it even worse) is that the girl must remain mute during the time it takes to make the shirts, a condition that ultimately leaves her in dire straits.

The production of the shirts is a slow one, requiring several years, and her hands soon become very painful, red and swollen and covered with blisters from the nettle stings.

To cut to the chase, the girl is convicted of witchcraft but cannot defend herself (being mute). At the last moment the swans arrive to the rescue. She throws the shirts over them, turning them back into humans, and thus freed from the spell she is at last able to explain.

A king marries her (like I said, what would you expect from a fairy tale?) and they live happily ever after - as do her brothers, except the youngest prince has a swan's wing for one of his arms, since she only had time to make ten-and-a-half shirts:

* * *

The other day I was in the local churchyard. I'm working on a project for FindAGrave (I love that site; since I'm unable to get to the cemeteries in the States where I could do much of my genealogy research, I use FindAGrave to ferret out some of the information I need) and I was photographing some of the headstones for the website.

Even tho it's been a cold spring - we had our summer last week, which is one reason I did the cemetery run; it's back in the upper 40s today - many of the gravestones are already obscured by weeds. Add the new growth to the old, built-up layers of leaves and moss and algae and it often becomes exceedingly difficult to get into a place where I can see the stone well enough to read it, let alone take a picture. And of course many of the gravestones are at crazy angles, or fallen over and half-covered, or broken altogether.

Ah well. Labor of love.

So I was tinkering around with some of the camera settings (the black-and-white is actually quite good for this work) and found a huge patch of forget-me-nots. How appropriate, in the cemetery of all places, and their soft blue is so pretty. I got down amongst them, insofar as I'm able with these crickety old knees, and took a shot:

That's now my desktop background. I'm not entirely happy with the unfocused ones, but Himself likes the pic so - it stays.

It took me three tries. As I was leaning down to try to get the camera low enough a bug got on me and tickled my (admittedly flabby) (think 'batwing,' indeed) upper arm. I stood up and brushed at it, not paying attention, and checked the photo I'd just taken. Mmm, not very good. I repeated the process and took another.

Huh. Must be some kind of gnats or something, and now that I think on it, I hope there are no bees' nests nearby. Not that honey-bees bother me, but there are some types of hornets here that are yellow-jacket-y in a way, so I ought to be paying some attention.

Check the second photo. Nope, hardly any flowers showing, I'll give this one more try, because I really do need to photograph as many gravestones as possible while the weather's nice. Still, the forget-me-nots don't last forever. Once more unto the breach, trying to stoop low enough...

...and demmitoll, those bugs are biting me now. Um, wait a second, no bugs - wonder if that plant is the stinging nettle they talk about--?

Well, by golly. Wouldn't you know my introduction to nettles would be via a nasty, burning rash.

Now, the USDA Forest Service says:

"American stinging nettle is the most common subspecies in temperate North America and occurs throughout Canada and much of the United States... as far south as Virginia, Missouri, and Kansas; in the West, it occurs to central California and south... to Mexico. European stinging nettle occurs primarily along the Atlantic Coast from Newfoundland south to Georgia and Alabama."

Mebbe so. There was a sizeable wooded tract on the farm where I grew up. We early on learned to spot poison ivy, oak and sumac - I'm rather sensitive to that stuff. We knew which berries were edible, and which were not. In fact, our woodlore was pretty thorough, thanks to Dad.

Not once do I remember hearing, seeing, being aware that nettles grew in Maryland.* I don't even remember knowing anyone who'd run across any.

*Those of you who have experience of the Chesapeake Bay will understand 'sea nettles.' The rest of you are excused. Trust me, you don't WANT personal experience of them.

My only knowledge of the nettle plant was from the old fairy tale: I always felt sorry for the princess, and had not a little awe that she persevered in gathering nettles and working the fibers into yarns to weave or knit into shirts.

I just figured that 'stinging nettles' would be a painful combination of 1) poison ivy blisters and 2) bee stings. Ouch.

The princess supposedly gathered them in cemeteries, and now I can see why: people would of course remove them from their yards or confine them to small patches in herb gardens, so the best place to find loads of them would be somewhere like an untended cemetery.

In short - yes, the plant I encountered was a stinging nettle. And it got me well and truly all over the excess skin that hangs from my flabby upper arm. My arm was nowhere low enough to encounter the plant but the skin, oh, assuredly so.

The point is, I'm telling you youngsters - do I sound like an old lady? - don't wait until you're in your fifties. Lose weight now, so your skin has some elasticity and firms up.

If I ever win the lottery, there's only one cosmetic surgery I'd go for: brachioplasty.

Meanwhile, next time I will not wear a short-sleeved shirt to the cemetery.

Tender-handed, stroke a nettle,
And it stings you for your pains.
Grasp it like a man of mettle,
And it soft as silk remains.
--old English rhyme

...to which I respond, horse-hockey. No way am I trying to grasp the stuff - tho perhaps it explains how the princess withstood the gathering of them.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    A second read and how hilarious you are! Never encountered a nettle but my son recently covered himself with poison ivy while working in his back yard! Doctor said it was the worst case he'd ever seen. While you are in the cemeteries, if you are ever in East Anglia, I'll send you on a search for my husbands relatives from the late 1500"s. Do you think the stones are still there?
    3184 days ago
    I remember the nettles. I was born and raised in Newfoundland. The sting they gave us was kinda nasty, but we played on anyway.
    3187 days ago
    Nettles - are everywhere around weden, I did not know that there were "not-stingy" ones.... early in spring I pick them and make soup, really delicious, they lose the stinginess when boiled of course.

    Nettles are really packed with nutrition and the stems could be used as twines if you want to build a shelter... they grow in "fat" soil sp they are found at manure stacks and ..of course grave yards would be a place althouhg not in Sweden as we don´t have forlorn graveyards here, they are all very neat and taken care of by authorities...

    I got "burned" by nettles a lot more when I was a kid and running around - gave white little rash swellings surrounded by red skin... nowadays I rarely get burned since I do avoid them. I use rubber gloves when I pick them.

    I say "burn" instead of sting because the swedish name directly translated is "burn-nettle" "bränn-nässla"

    3191 days ago
    I've been out of touch but had to visit this week, what with the queen and all and her relations all over the telly. Reminded me of you and how fond we are of England. Lovely stuff, that was.
    3194 days ago
    Hi Kasey----I was watching the Queen --and I saw you and hisself in the crowd!!--I was shouting at ya, but you didn't hear me(*S*)--Anyway, I've been thinking aboutcha in this Jubilee stuff---Did you go to participate?----We FINALLY are having a lovely summer---the blackflies are gone ----the docks are out----lotza grass to cut(poopers!)----but----we are enjoying it--Wave at me when yuou are watching her---Lynda emoticon emoticon emoticon
    3195 days ago
    Love your profile pic....its superb
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  • PROT358
    The patriotic arm flab really made me chuckle. Thanks for sharing! And the swan princess was one of my favorite fairy tales growing up!
    3196 days ago
    You didn't have nettles where you grew up? We sure did!

    I need to get signed up for Find A Grave. My friend in Las Cruces has been after me for yonks to do it. And of course, I don't have enough to do, so I probably should ... emoticon

    Still, it would be fun I think. And maybe inspire me to work on my genealogy more than I do.

    Love that picture: "for me?"

    And they're called bingo wings over there, or so my friend in Southampton informs me. I'm doing exercises. They seem to help a little.
    3197 days ago
    I am very familier with the stinging nettles. We have a lot in Florida and have felt that sting many times when young.Loved the story.
    I am always telling Bill I would like to take pictures of old grave stones. some are so interesting.
    Loved the cartoon.
    3198 days ago
  • POPSY190
    Dock leaves often grow nearby - if you rub the area with a leaf it takes away the sting.
    3198 days ago
    I too like the picture---some being out of focus just makes the others more pretty--like a painting. And yes, I know what stinging nettles are here in MD---luckily I have avoided them---but at Camp Pecometh we were not allowed to go swimming in the river because of them---could only use the pool---and I think one reason I did not want to go out in a canoe ---afraid I would tip over and get stung---some years or worse than others for them. But I think we might have a couple of those nettle plants in the alleyway behind our house but it just might be sticker ones.
    3198 days ago
    Ah, the connection of grave-yards and nettles... brings to mind the PBS airing of "Paradise Postponed" in which Leslie Titmuss, the unlikely character, was hired by the Vicar's wife to pull nettles around the vicarage.

    Hmmm. Ugly, nasty, stingy stuff! Hope you're better soon! emoticon
    3198 days ago
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