I am not a gardener. I actually have a rather brown thumb. For this reason I have always appreciated cacti and succulents…they thrive if you leave them alone and I am really good at that. But every spring I give the nursery some of my money and come home with some plants and flowers to brighten the yard for the BBQ season. And so it was last weekend….me and the marigolds and a big bag of potting soil.
Towards the end of my once-a-year gardening day I was innocently putting some new flowers into a pot. This pot sits next to a large spiny plant that usually causes me no trouble at all. I ignore him for the most part…I occasionally look his way with a fleeting sense of appreciation….but I rarely go near him. He has his little corner, I have the house and yard. Seems fair. But this day I needed to get to the empty pot next to him to fill it with flowers. Well for some reason the spiny dude chose to stab me viciously with one of his stiff sharp spines. It fucking hurt!
At the time of the attack I was holding root-balls and was covered in dirt and sweat so I decided to just let the wound bleed and deal with it after my chores. The blood poured out for a bit and then stopped. Cool. I finished the potting, watering, cleaning up, and headed to the shower to scrub the dirt and dried blood off my body. I got dressed for dinner in the City and forgot about the attack and the spiny dude.
Had a wonderful dinner at Range with my buddy Jill and afterward we ambled into an art studio on Valencia to have a look. Walking about after a couple of hours sitting for dinner, I suddenly became aware that my knee was aching. I leaned down and felt it through my jeans…it had swelled up. I pulled up my pants and saw a giant bruise and the bull’s-eye hole in the middle where the spine had breached my flesh. Shit. Jill looked at the spectacle, made a face and said, “oh my god Mer!” I immediately went to the bathroom and dropped my drawers praying I would not find giant reds streaks crawling up my leg towards my heart! Nope. All clear. Just one motherfucker of a bruise.
So Monday I am in Auburn facilitating a meeting with all sorts of scientist-y people. At lunch we are gabbing about this and that and somehow I work in the story of the cactus attack. I show them my leg and most everyone is thoroughly grossed out by the sight of my huge bruise. It was dramatic. One of my scientist-y friends (a herpetologist…if you don’t know what they do, look it up…they are often particularly fond of frogs) sends me a note suggesting that the offending plant is an agave cactus. I go to google images. Mother fucker! I was attacked by an agave cactus I have had for years and never knew was agave! So why is this so significant to me? Read on.
I have been drinking tequila and mescal for probably close to 30 years. Not everyday. Not every week. But I have probably had at least a couple shots a year since the start. And just for the record, the early days often involved driving 3 hours south to the border to Tijuana where my under-aged-self bought $2 bottles of mescal, the ones with the worm at the bottom (now I drink top shelf stuff!). And late last year I ventured south to Antigua, Guatemala, where I met a scrappy gang of dudes (and a couple of chicks) who have an over-the-top affection for mescal. And they can drink a lot of it….in one night.…and then the next night. They so enjoy this libation that they started their own label, Ilegal Mezcal.
When I was down there, I too drank a lot of mescal and tequila. And most nights, I paced and held my own. After all, I have had some experience. Or so I thought. Perhaps I got a little cocky….maybe just a little. Maybe I needed a little humbling. Maybe I wasn’t ready to play with the big-boys….at least not full time.
Of course my last night in Antigua was spent at Café No Se sipping and shooting mescal with my new best friends. Because this was my last night, folks were quite eager to buy me a shot and make toasts…to new friendships, good booze, smart folks….whatever. They bought me a lot of shots. We made a lot of toasts. And at about 2:30am I suddenly realized I wasn’t right. The feeling was unmistakable…Mer, get to the head ASAP! Until that night I had thrown up from alcohol exactly three times and all three times I was sober, had drank beer on an unsettled stomach, and was a teenager. And so it was early that morning in the Café No Se bathroom I broke a 27 year no-vomit-from-booze streak. Humbling.
Now, why the hell am I rambling on about my history of boozing with tequila and mescal? Well, if you don’t know this already, these two spirits are made with the agave cacti. So I am now considering all this context and history. I am trying to assign meaning to this incident of attack by an agave cactus I never knew I had and is used to make spirits I have drank for decades. What does it all mean? Why did the spiny dude attack me? Is it divine retribution for drinking too much? For indirectly participating in the killing of fellow cacti? Was this little incident reminding me to get my ass back to Antigua ASAP? To drink more tequila? (Also recently recommended by my doctor…but that’s another story). Maybe the little guy just wanted more attention and was acting out? Well, despite the metaphysical meanings I have yet to discern and/or decide on, the story doesn’t end here.
So back to my frog-loving-scientist-y friend. After I show her my disgusting bruise and wound and tell the story, she looks at me quizzically and says, “Why don’t you just prune the spines off?” For fucks sakes! Told you I wasn’t a gardener! So today my little spiny pal lost his spines. I cut those little buggers right off. And then I reminded my little pal that he did not need them in my yard anyway…no predators. Besides, I noted, I am the one who waters his sorry ass a couple times a year when the rains stop! So I think we have reached a truce. But one thing is for sure, I will never again forget he is there. He now stands out…even without his spines. And he has made his mark….and apparently it will be around for a couple of weeks. This is what I found describing the affects of an agave cactus stabbing:
If the skin is pierced deeply enough, by the needle-like ends of the leaf from a vigorously growing plant, this can also cause blood vessels in the surrounding area to erupt and an area some 6-7cm across appear to be bruised. This may last up to two to three weeks.
I got out the tape measure. Three and one quarter inches my bruise measured. That converts to 8.3 centimeters. That fucker went in deep!
Well, I think I will go pour myself a shot of old spiny’s cousins….and maybe check on flights to Guatemala….
Spiny dude before pruning. Notice lovely flowers to the right?
Spiny dude after pruning...not so spiny anymore!
Close up of spiny dudes weapons. Damn!
Now, go check out this video of Chris Walken, a plant-phobic gardener who uses googly eyes to manage his fears.