Slapping yet another mosquito off my arms I sigh and trek through the small gap in the trees. Dr. B, our field botany professor, decided to get off the magnolia covered path and take an excursion to “I’m not sure where we are going but we need some more interesting plant life.” Earlier, I was thrilled to be taking a field botany class for the summer through a STEM program at UNC Charlotte but now the woods at Jones Lake, NC was a death trap covered in a labyrinth of thorns and fallen trees. Pockets of briers ruled the ground, snarling their razor sharp piranha teeth and snagging my pant legs. I keep my eyes on them, navigating the safest route. I walk like this for what seems like forever.
Smack! The blood on my hand confirmed another wretched mosquito was dead. I wipe the remains on my torn pants. I didn’t care about them anymore. The briers had done its damage. The shade began to lighten up in front of me. Two head ducks, a high step, and a shimmy later and I was out. Relief filled my insides. The sun’s rays wrapped me in a well needed embrace. Slowly, others made their way out too, followed by sighs of relief. When we regrouped we looked at the landscape around us. We had gone from bay side pathway, to forest, to semi-arid desert region complete with cacti sprinkling the ground. Dr. B got ready to give us a lecture on desert plants when a smile began to crawl across his face. He reached down and picked up a daunting looking plant. It had a hairy stalk with many pointed teeth along its leaf’s blade.
“Hold your arms out.” The professor commanded. As we did, he preceded to whip each of our arms with the plant. I could hear the shrieks and groans coming from my classmates. My arms immediately flew to my side. ‘What is he doing?’ I thought. My friends held their arms to their chests nursing their wounds.
“It burns!” one of them yelled, “What is it?”
“Urtica Dioica. Stinging Nettle.” Dr. B said with a wide grin. “It leaves a tiny welt and itches terribly.” He started towards me. Was he crazy? There is no way I’m going to let him whip me with that thing now!
“Come on. Just give it a try.” Dr. B persuaded. WHAT? Give it a try? This man was definitely crazy. Other people were wincing and shredding their arms with their nails. I refused to do it, but then that teenage curiosity (aka stupidity) started creeping in my veins. I had to get whipped by this evil plant. I didn’t want to remember myself as a coward when I told others my summer adventures, plus I wanted to know how it felt. I slowly reached out my hand and “AHH”, he whipped it before I was ready. Its sharp stalk landed across my knuckles and sunk its poison in my flesh. I jerked my hand back but I could already feel the pain coming. It felt like the a hundred fire ant bites all over my hand. I tried scratching but it didn’t do any good. I bit my lip and took the sting.
We had come out of the woods alongside of the road. We followed it till we found our van. Dr. B tried to get us to eat the ripe fruit of cacti along the way but, due to major trust issues, no one took a bite. We had learned our lesson for the day.
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