I dug up still another patch of backyard Friday and Saturday, and the same thing happened as last time. My forearms swelled up. For a couple of days I looked like Popeye the Sailor Man. Right now, although the swelling has receded, “I’m itching like a man on a fuzzy tree,” although the other symptoms associated with that song have not displayed. I guess it could be mosquitos, although I didn’t hear them around my ears or see them alight. This pest is maybe chainsaw-us vexans, its cousin hammerdrill-us vexans, or sneakuponus vexans. I wear gloves but inevitably a couple welts appear near my elbows, and I know I’m in for it. I went to the grocery store for some ammonia. Because I come from a medical family I have always gravitated toward the remedy with the longest Latin or Greek name, in this case hydrocortisone. But bah! I’m “scratching like a hound, ” although the etiology of my condition is not as described in that song either. The Internet suggested ammonia and baking soda as the best treatments, and though the inventory in my new-old manse of cleaners and remedies provided the soda, I had not yet acquired ammonia, although you can be sure that by nightfall that insufficiency was remedied. I have applied all the ingredients the Web suggests—ammonia, baking soda, camphor oil with calamine, in various combinations, and in one fearsome potion, and what happens is less than hoped-for. I think next time I’m going to have to be quicker, and slather the bite moments after its infliction. I have on order a new vial of Ben’s 100, to which I was introduced by my Maine friend Unkel Borden as essential armor for any knight-errant of the wilderness. Had Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, for example, magically transplanted to the present, begun wandering among the murmuring pines and hemlocks, he would not have left home without it. Years ago, in possession of a can of “Ben’s,” I merely had to set it out with my camp stove and lantern and vexans would buzz to sites unknown at hitherto unrecorded speed.
The raison d’ētre of this affliction, or perhaps addiction would be the better word, is this other patch I spoke of—the newest garden plot. Two 4X8 raised beds, a 4X3 squash patch, two six-foot-long giant sunflower strips, a row of corn plants, and one lovely flower bed under the spreading paw-paw tree have not been enough to contain the mass of young plants, which, you might recall, I described in a previous posting as having been raised, from seed. I needed one more to accommodate the remaining seven heirloom tomatoes, and the lovely masses of low-ground portulaca, with their promise of delicate, multicolored “sun-roses.” These exploded into abundance from lackluster beginnings in starter pots this last couple of weeks. The new garden spaces require the removal of all the grass thereupon, and if all the topsoil is not to be discarded with it the clods must be shaken, pounded with a garden fork, pulled apart, aerated with the “garden weasel” (yes, I do own one), or chopped with a short-handled, double-bladed garden hoe, or a combination of all five methods. Somewhere in this process the bitey-stingy children of Mother Nature weighed in with their best, and here it is Friday and I’m still itching.
Mr. and Mrs. Robin are nesting in the paw-paw tree again, and this year looks to be more successful. Last year’s nest was raided by predators, probably crows, before the eggs hatched, but mom and dad are still sitting. The yard is already full of fledgling birds, hopping along after their parents and giving their wings a characteristic shake which means “I won’t let you alone until you feed me.” I went out this morning and tried that, and the tomatoes grew an inch in response.