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.
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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:
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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.