I didn’t mean to do it. Nature and I have long had an understanding that, although in some technical and biological way I am part of Her, I nonetheless prefer to remain indoors and the hell out of Her way. All that ended recently when my car skidded off the road in a rainstorm (and really, what is the idea of all that water falling out of the sky so suddenly, hmm, Ms. Nature?) and I had to exit my sidetracked vehicle near some thick population of plant things — bushes and vines and what have you.
The downpour had stopped, fortunately, and airborne aqua, containing who knows what world-altering ingredients, did not spatter my skin and clothing. Instead, water only seeped into my shoes, which I have since burned. But as I climbed from the damp ditch where I had come to rest upon spotting the tow truck come to my rescue, I felt a leaf graze my wrist. A leaf! Yes, one of those greenish, slimy and unclean natural protuberances of raw planthood that spends its entire life outdoors. I was aghast.
My relationship to herbaceous vegetation, in case you haven’t gathered by now, is one of revulsion. As an adult I allow myself to make contact with shrub- or root-like entities only to eat buttered lima beans, and that’s rarely, and the hideous beans have got to be cooked and seasoned just right. I won’t dwell on the horrible viscosity of peas or the unbearable density of carrots. Of salads I say, Why? You might as well pour some vinegar and oil on your yard and graze there like a goat. Yum, that’s tasty clover!
I felt the brief contact of that leaf against my wrist as if some cold-blooded alien creature had swiped me with its outstretched tongue or curled-up hand as thin as a blade of grass. I was aware of the plant’s ill intent and wondered about the consequences. For hours after the accident, as I waited in a garage for my car’s tires to be realigned and listened to my insurance agent explain over the phone the difficulty of suing the owner of the puddle I hydroplaned over, I kept examining the contact spot on my wrist, expecting a red welt to rise up and begin oozing terrible toxins.
All right, so the sticky, moist leaf most likely wasn’t an alien, but who knew what brand of poison ivy or oak or sumac it was? I recalled from childhood the terrifying expectation I felt each summer that my limbs and throat would swell up to huge proportions due to plant life, which fortunately they never did, and the streaming half-closed eyes that I also dreaded but luckily never experienced. These feelings closed in on me again, and I knew that even if the leaf bore no deadly toxin, still it might have coated me with piney resin or scraped my tender flesh with scabrous vegetable follicles. I might stop breathing and my throat and lungs fill with suffocating fluid at a moment’s notice, if I were susceptible.
And I was always susceptible, or so I believed. As a child I was keenly aware of the deadly misnomers “fresh air” and “healthy exercise.” Growing up I always preferred the safety of my home with its indoor toys and TV to the dirt-lined playing fields and filthy streets. Evil flowers in bloom and dangerous budding trees terrified me. Shuddering, I recalled visiting a petting zoo with my elementary school class and becoming exposed to the pathogens of a live chicken. Worse was the day my high school senior class took a communal walk in a park and I trampled a mushroom. I was so upset I almost didn’t graduate.
At home with my rescued and repaired car in the drive, I took a good long hot shower, and then another, to thoroughly cleanse the leaf contact area. True, no skin eruption presented itself, but to be sure I also daubed the affected epidermis with soothing unguents, including a good soaking in both hydrocortisone and anti-fungal creams. Doctors have told me that these creams can be counterproductive when used together, since fungus loves nothing better than hydrocortisone, but I was desperate. I thought of driving to the ER too, or at least making an appointment with my physician, but the absence of an immediate tumor or even irritation on my wrist calmed me to the point of adopting a wait-and-see approach.
That may be my fatal mistake, like waiting to see if the mosquito squatting on my wrist, no doubt bursting with West Nile virus, will bite me or not. Or walking through my tree-lined back yard during tick season, and not running right back inside to examine every inch of my flesh under a flashlight.
That’s the awful thing about Nature: you don’t just touch Her. She touches you.