if you stick a nettle up your nose

Years ago, my then-boyfriend and I went on a hike on the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. He’d never laid eyes on the Pacific Ocean, so off we went to take a look. Along the way, I stuck a nettle up my nose.

Well, yes, it did hurt. A lot. It was an honest amateur botanist’s mistake – or so I tell myself, even though I have a degree that included spending a fair number of hours in the field studying actual plants.

When I saw what I thought was mint growing by the side of the trail, I eagerly snapped off a sprig to check for mint’s square stem, made a false conclusion, and quickly crushed a bit of leaf and stuck it up my nose (eager beaver, anyone?). Instead of a fresh minty whiff, I got a five-alarm red alert from my nasal passage.

Even as I danced around in surprised agony, yelping and sneezing and holding my face (or maybe trying to temporarily remove my nose, just for a minute or two), I was embarrassed by my mistake. As I writhed, I muttered, “Oops. Not mint after all,” and tried to act tough, but without much success.

My then-boyfriend, as sharp a tack as you can imagine, scoffed. “Oh, for god’s sake,” he said, “it can’t hurt that much. What’s the big deal?” Suddenly, I wasn’t embarrassed anymore, but rankled. Seriously, you try sticking a nettle up your nose. It could be an Olympic event, like scarfing down hot chili peppers without throwing up afterward.

Wait a sec, I thought. “Have you ever even met a nettle before?” I asked him. “No,” he said, “but so what?” He gave me a cocky look and, before I could stop him, swung the back of his hand in a big arc through the nettle patch. Uh-oh, I thought, and took a few steps back, to give him room.

Sure enough, his version of the nettle dance was pretty spectacular, with lots of salty cursing thrown in to make it as manly as possible. I don’t fault him. The velocity and acreage of his nettle close encounter probably about equaled the intimacy of mine.

He was mad at me for hours afterwards, peering at me darkly as he massaged his wounded hand.

Until he saw the Pacific Ocean.

I don’t recommend sticking a nettle up your nose, or going through any other kind of pain, especially pain you can avoid. But if you do, a really effective remedy is to take part in a wondrous experience – like watching a close friend top a rise and take their first look at an immense, astonishing sea.

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