Saturday 2 July 2022

A Suitable Name

I remember when I was a child reading a fairy tale about a princess who had to make something or other with stinging nettles and I could just tell that it wasn't a pleasant job. It said as much right in the book; the stinging nettles stung her hands.

I've just Googled "fairy tale nettles" and yes, there it is, the story of The Wild Swans. It's got a wicked stepmother, a banished princess, magic, accusations of witchcraft, more magic, and those stinging nettles -- and, of course, swans. There is more than one version, but the Danish one by Hans Christian Anderson, seems to be the one I read when I was little. 

In it, the princess' brothers are changed into swans by the wicked stepmother, and the only way they can change back is if the princess makes shirts for them from stinging nettles. With one thing and another, she is accused of witchcraft and is about to be burned at the stake, but she doggedly works on those shirts until the last moment, flings them over the swans to change them back into her brothers,  and brings about a happy ending.

I wondered if stinging nettles were a real plant, because there's a lot of made-up stuff in fairy tales. Also, I'd never heard anyone in my little world talk about stinging nettles as something that lived in our province or even our country. So the question just sat in the back of my mind for something like fifty years until the internet came along, and also blogging, and I started finding references in other countries to stinging nettles as FOOD -- although, to be sure, you must cook the leaves and stems if you do not wish to have heck in your mouth.

Well, guess what I ran into in my own yard a few weeks ago, and again yesterday? Yes, you get a gold star.

Both times I was weeding and found them with my hands, which had predictable results. I was wearing thin plastic gloves which I use instead of my heavy gloves for many gardening jobs because they are less clumsy and keep my hands cleaner than no gloves at all. Both times, I spent twenty-four hours regretting it.

The first time I was stung, for reasons I no longer remember but can guess at (4x daily trips to my mom's for eye drops, for example) I promptly forgot about it. I forgot to check the internet to see if we even have stinging nettles in Nova Scotia. I forgot to wonder if there were more plants in my yard. I forgot what it looked like. I forgot to wear heavier gloves when pulling weeds again. I forgot that I ever got hurt.

Yesterday it happened all over again. My thumb hurt so badly I couldn't use it and even though I didn't use it, it still hurt. I was so affronted I quit weeding and spent the day on the computer. One of the first things I did was Google stinging nettles and sure enough, we got 'em. They apparently spread through their roots, or you can buy them for $4.00 Canadian for several hundred seeds if you are so inclined.

What I was inclined to do was go outside with my thick gloves and dig up that plant and any others that looked like it and lay them in the sun to shrivel up, after which I used my thick gloves to wrap them in newspaper and placed them carefully in the compost bin for pickup.

Here is pictorial evidence, by the way:


Growing right under my nose

Ye shall grow no more, wicked plant


Do  you have stinging nettles where you live?

Have you ever gotten stung?

Have you ever eaten stinging nettles?

Are you an adventurous eater?

What is the most adventurous thing you have ever eaten?


Friday 1 July 2022

Holiday Thoughts from Canada

Many folks are finding the events of the past few years and especially the past few months to be weird, strange, scary and depressing. It's hard to process how quickly and how badly democracy has been slipping in the world. It's easy to feel there is nothing to be done except plug our ears and yell "I'm not listening!"

But there are things we can do.

If you are on the side of democracy, realize that voting is like a lot of other things.

Just because you do it once doesn't mean you never have to do it again.

Every election is important, at every level of government, every single time.

There is no such thing as "democracy is safe now, so I can relax". Or, "I trust those running our county/town/province/state/country, so I don't have to think about policy or issues anymore".

Because the person/party not currently in power is spending plenty of time and energy figuring out how to get back into power.

If you don't want that to happen, you have to be on your toes, with your ears and eyes open and your brain engaged, all the time.

One thing you can do right now, even if there is no election imminent at the local, regional or national level where you live, is to make sure you are registered to vote.

If you aren't registered already, start the process now. If you aren't sure if you're registered, find out. If you're going to be out of the area or country when the next election hits, figure out now how you can vote early or from a distance. If you wait until the election is upon you, it may be too late.

And if you know anyone who is not registered, find out why. If you can help them, please help. If they don't think voting is important, help them understand why it is and what's at stake.

If you are unclear on these things, read up on them or find YouTube channels or podcasts which help explain.

One YouTube channel I've started watching is Brian Tyler Cohen, a liberal activist whose YouTube videos are brief, knowledgeable, and well-presented, and whose podcasts are longer but also interesting and I say that as someone who doesn't usually like podcasts. Don't be put off by his video titles; I think he's trying to catch readers' attention. If you like what you hear, subscribe (for free) and like his videos. That helps to ensure his videos appear on more YouTube watchers' screens. And tell your friends. (Warning: occasional strong language.)

On a recent podcast, Cohen interviewed Fred Guttenberg, the father of a girl killed in the mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school. Guttenberg is now an activist for gun reform in the U.S. and his thoughts and advice are moving and empowering. He explains why it's important to vote at every level for every public office, and what the stakes are.

You don't have to live in the United States to subscribe or give videos a "like", but those actions can help drive the algorithm that suggests videos for YouTube watchers, including Americans.

That's my public service announcement for today . . . which is Canada Day in my country. It's not just a day for me to write about parades and fireworks and strawberry shortcake to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of Canada; it's also a day to reflect on how lucky I am to live in a democracy and also how fragile democracy is and what I can do to help make sure it survives.

Oh, Canada! I stand on guard for thee. (from our national anthem)

Or at least I try.