Sunday, July 15, 2007
Nature Boy and Cucumber Toxicity
In my last post I promised to tell the tale of the wild cucumber.
When I belonged to a sober backpacking group in my late thirties, before my back could no longer be packed, I earned the sobriquet "Nature Boy" for my indefatigable interest in wild things along with my uncanny ability to lead the lost back, cross-country, to wherever they wished to return. I have a compass in my head and know the lay of the land--it's a background software program I take for granted. Apparently many folks don't have it.
Nature Boy is willing to sample anything that looks faintly edible, usually accompanied by spitting and washing of his mouth, occasionally by gustatory approval. I have yet to find a poisonous plant that tastes good; that would be fundamentally unfair, unless the Devil has twisted creation more than I thought God would allow.
The wild cucumber is a new plant I learned here in NorCal. The plant's common name gave me hope of sustenance, and I didn't run across any statements about its edibility in my guides. Besides, I love cucumbers--English cucumbers, that is, the kind with ridges.
I watched the vines flower and mature. Their little white flowers arose on vertical stalks like crabs' eyes. I waited for the fruit.
Two weeks ago on a Saturday, despite my soul-killing depression, I suggested we hike to Cabrillo Point for an outing. On the way to the beach I noticed wild cucumbers fruiting. I picked one of the spiny fruits, broke it open, held it to my nose and took a bite. It was extremely bitter, bitter beyond vanilla extract poured directly on your tongue. I washed my mouth out repeatedly. Kathleen sniffed it as well, but she swore it never touched her lip.
Two days later, Monday morning, Kathleen awoke with a reddened philtrum which later peeled. My nose was red as well, and in a few days my philtrum, cheek and nose all began to peel. It's only just healed. Our skin felt fiery when the eruption began; we shook our heads trying to deduce a cause.
Then it came to me: delayed cellular immunity, as in poison oak. On first exposure the body has to manufacture new antibodies to cope with a menace not previously encountered, first firing the cruder IGM and afterwards the more specialized IGG. A 48 hr. delay between exposure and symptoms was about right for this scenario. I must have kissed Kathleen with the antigen still on my lip for her to have been affected.
Beware of geeks bearing lips.
Moral of the story? Craig, beware of putting things in your mouth. Most kids learn that before the age of three. Alas, all who know me know that I am socially retarded but adventurous as well, with little respect for my own safety. For my daredevil behavior in high school I earned the nickname, "Crazy Craig," despite my valedictorian academic status.
If I had been born into a primitive tribe most concerned with survival, it is possible my manic-depressive disease would never have manifested itself. Nothing brings me out of depression (if only temporarily) so quickly as a life-threatening situation, especially if someone I love is threatened.
Freeway fist fights, unfortunately, have no survival value in our culture. Nevertheless don't fuck with me or mine on the road. I'm a bad enough driver without someone endangering me. A month ago I chased a sports car down the street in San Francisco, intent on pulling the asshole out the driver's door to sweep the street with him. Unfortunately he escaped.
Kathleen said "fortunately."
There are so few opportunities to be a real man in our culture. I tend to take the window for righteous action seriously. If life is incarnation and not some video game, when an asshole smugly endangers others just because he has a plastic bubble to protect him, I think he should be faced with reality--the reality of a fist or a baseball bat--to disabuse him of the notion that his personal reality of technological isolation is in fact, not real.
People are brave with their Internet aliases and behind the wheels of their Hummers, but we all know the overwhelming majority of humans are craven cowards.
Since telling my shrink what I needed Wednesday I've been better, but I'm not out of the woods by any means. I cried too briefly for Kathleen to notice this morning and got busy with other things. Later we took Kenyon swimming, and in a battle between river and ocean currents he was able to retrieve his bottle from fifty yards, for minutes appearing stationary in his attempt to best the currents, but paddling courageously on. I thought I was going to have to swim out and save him, but Mr. Intrepid made it to shore. He is our champion, God bless him. We think swimming keeps him alive.
I've gone easy on myself since my appointment with Dr. K. I quit pushing myself to finish the novel revision. My chief writing activity has been to go through unpublished poems and delete them forever, in the equivalent of a digital bonfire. There are so many efforts of mine I don't want to be caught dead with, literally.
One benefit of this depression has been to curb my narcissism towards all my work. I am a journeyman poet, no genius, much of my work forgettable. I've put more energy into feeling neglected as an artist, I fear, than I have into my art. How's that for childish?
I'm as self-centered and easily hurt as the next guy, maybe more. Especially in depression my self-esteem, when it hangs, hangs by a fine thread.
I hope for the sake of entertainment the day comes when I feel hypomanic and blog accordingly. Then all will fear to pull on Superman's cape!