We have a bit of an orchard in our backyard here in Tartu. Several apple-bearing trees, some that bring forth golden apples, others green, and then there's the two or three trees in the corner whose apples mature into a ripe and ruddy red.
I was unaware of the apple trees in our backyard when we decided to move in, but then they burst forth in late spring, thousands upon thousands of orbs suspended by limp branches weighed down by their abundance.
We would all go out on a summer day to gather up the hundreds of apples that had dropped over a week or so, only to walk out the following morning to see that hundreds more had fallen down overnight. On occasion, I would be picking up falling apples only to have one cascade down from the tree above and hit me ~plonk~ on the forehead. It was on one of these apple foraging missions that I met again a small Estonian plant known as nõges.
You see, originally I thought Estonian nature was harmless. In the New York woods where I grew up, nature was not so nice. There was poison ivy, which kept me home from school a few times, and if you didn't get that, poison oak and poison sumac had ivy's back to make sure your experience of the forest would be absolutely miserable.
On top of the rash-inducing shiny leaves of North America, there were also the many berries that one should not eat unless they planned on getting very sick and/or dying. When I was a kid, the most plentiful berries in the forest were not charming murakad. They were the ominous sounding bloodberries, which were only good for throwing at one another. And bloodberries always stained your clothing.
But I had yet to encounter anything as unsavory as bloodberries or poison ivy during my time in Estonia until I encountered nõges. I was reaching down to pick up an apple when ~ouch~ something stung me. It was those damn leaves. I had been stung by nõgesed twice before, both times in forests in Viljandimaa, but I had forgotten how similar to a bee sting it really was.
I looked at my hand. There was a red stripe from where the little bastard had decided to sink its little feelers into my flesh. After I hauled my bucket of red apples inside, I approached Epp, still rubbing my hand, and blurted out: "those leaves bit me!" to which she responded with wicked laughter and in a mocking voice repeated back, "leaves bit me", this time crying with laughter. I guess the way I said it was unusual. But that's exactly how it felt-
According to the trusty Wikipedia, kõrvenõges -- the kind of nõges that stung me -- is known as 'stinging nettle' in English. Apparently it is found in North America too, but it is far more common in Europe. If you want to see a photo of its tiny jaws, click here. So next time I'll keep my eyes peeled for the nõgesed in our garden. And if you happen to get bitten by a nõges, I feel your pain and I promise I won't laugh.