Friday, August 4, 2023

urtica dioica

Salutations to you all from the south of England!  We are here with the (grown-up) kids visiting that side of the family, and to make up for last July when it rained one single time and was as warm and sunny as you could ever hope Blighty to be, this time we are layering and wrapping and taking our macs with us wherever we go.

Yesterday, however, there was a fine spell between 8 and 3 and we took our opportunity to get outside--more on that shortly. While INSIDE on Wednesday I spent quite a bit of time with Rebecca Brock's first chapbook, published last year.  She's a poet some of you may know if you have participated in any of Laura Shovan's February Poem Projects.

EACH BEARING OUT is the title, and I'm going to share one poem that answers our Inklings First Friday Challenge this month, set by Catherine Flynn:

Robin Wall Kimmerer teaches us that “It's a sign of respect and connection to learn the name of someone else, a sign of disrespect to ignore it…Learning the names of plants and animals is a powerful act of support for them. When we learn their names and their gifts, it opens the door to reciprocity.” Look closely at the flowers, birds, trees, or other natural features in your neighborhood (or if you’re traveling, a new-to-you species) and write a poem about your chosen species. Free choice of format.

Imperial Moth Caterpillar | Rebecca Brock

Pale green and long as a cattail,
the caterpillar had a face
like a ladybug's shell
except yellow, spotless.

They push a stick into the dirt,
to mark the spot, before racing
their bikes back to find me
coming slowers, on foot, with the dog.

Brothers, they call out
to each other, call out to me,
their cheeks red and legs pedaling--
the dog pulls at his leash to greet them.

To love something is not the same
as naming it but they know the names
of things matter and I am grateful to be asked
something for which there is an answer.

They hover and the dog jumps
and tugs as I try to stay still
enough to type caterpillar, late summer, 
yellow face---to find the before, the during,
even the remarkable after: a flying creature,
pale yellow with brown spots, dusky
and ready to mate by midnight.

I'm still learning how to trust
a creature with its own life---
but they already know to kneel,
even to marvel,
at the body
into what had seemed
such solid ground.


Children DO know that the names of things matter, and they are born to be collectors of those names, of distinguishing features, of species knowledge, if we honor that survival instinct and let them.  We all know kids who have catalogs of dinosaurs or construction vehicles, horses or Hatchimals--but how many do you know that can name a dozen culinary herbs? More than three kinds of birds? More than one species of butterfly? I don't think we give our children nearly enough opportunity to learn their natural surroundings the way kids 200 years ago would have HAD to, just to eat.

So, back to yesterday's fine day.  We went blackberrying on the South Downs, near Hope Gap at the Cuckmere River that feeds into the English Channel.  There were lots of blackberry bushes, of course:

and, we quickly discovered, lots of stinging nettles growing in among and in front of the blackberries:

Looking closely, there's a clear difference between the leaves, but for the uninitiated, those leaves with their "serrated margins" are pretty similar. I had finally put on some SHORTS and sacrificed both knees and forearms for the bounty of berries that I collected.  Things went much better for my tall son with the long arms, who could reach the berries without wading into the Urtica dioica, and no one seemed to suffer the intensity of histamine reaction as much as I did--instead of 15 minutes of sting and burn I had hours, followed by a gritty, sandy tingling like your foot waking up after you've sat on it too long. (I'm pain-free this morning, you'll be glad to know.)

So have I learned an awful lot about stinging nettles?  Yes!  Do I have a poem?  No!  Not yet.  But maybe by the time you click this link, some 5 hours anon, I will.  I have no doubt that my fellow Inklings will give you plenty to noodle on in the meantime. Thanks to Mary Lee at A(nother) Year of Reading for hosting us today with a goldfinch poem and bonus stitchery! May the Earth love us all back, despite ourselves.


  1. Oof. Sorry about the stinging nettles, but those berries look amazing! Thank you for Rebecca's poem (thank you, too, Rebecca!). It is the perfect addition to the challenge. The way it tells a story and the centrality of the learning of the names of our neighbors makes it a cousin to my poem.

  2. Love Rebecca's poem -- you're right, it's perfect for the challenge. I'm sorry about your response to stinging nettles! It's one of the first herbs I "met" because Ariana started taking them for histamine issues. (She researched them and decided to start taking them when she was 14 or so.) I'm allergic to them, but they were great for her.

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  4. I had a brush with stinging nettles in Ireland last month and I feel your pain, Heidi. I did not have as bad a reaction as you did, but wow-- they pack a punch! Overall, your trip sounds wonderful.

  5. Ouch - the beauty and Ouch the pain and Ouch for knowledge gained... I'm thinking this is one way children 200 years ago learned what was you say, they HAD to. Glad you're better and enjoy your family time!

  6. Oh, no--sorry about the stinging nettles, Heidi. I hope the rest of your visit is sting-free!

  7. ouch! stinging fun. My favorite words in this post: "hey are born to be collectors of those names, of distinguishing features, of species knowledge,"
    Yes, not only are they born to this but they are born to love those words even when in poetry! What a fabulous trip and a fabulous connection to the prompt.

  8. Ouch on the stinging nettles, but yay for adventures! I hope there will be lots of poems from your travels once you've had time to let things steep.

    1. Oops! The above comment was mine. Somehow I managed to post anonymously.

  9. Rebecca Brock's poem is a perfect response to our prompt. "I'm still learning how to trust/a creature with its own life" is a great line. Sorry about the nettles, but the blackberries look like they were worth the pain!

  10. I just started Rebecca’s new book, love that you found one from her that fits the challenge so beautifully, and that you’re having a ‘berry’ nice trip, despite the nettles. Hope that you are better now!

  11. I need Rebecca's book. What a wonderful poem that took me to the wonder of boys on bikes and caterpillars. I visited the school butterfly garden and there are Gulf Fritillaries all over it in various stages. I am hopeful they will still be there by the start of school on Wednesday. Have a wonderful vacation and watch out for those pesky nettles.

  12. Thank you for taking us along! Nettle I know the struggle!

  13. Dang! I just lost my comment! Let's try again...Rebecca's poem is gorgeous and perfect for the prompt. I also loved reading about your travels and travails--so sorry to hear about your brush with nettles, but fascinated to read about their many uses. You also reminded me that when we were little and encountered nettles, we'd use the sap of nearby touch-me-nots to ease the sting. I'd forgotten all about that! I'll be keeping an eye out for your nettle-ish poem!


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!