A thorny problem

Outdoor Living

GARDENER BEWARE  Raindrops clinging to hawthorn spines on a foggy morning. Pic: geograph.ie/Chris Reynolds

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

In a frenzy of pre-March hedge-cutting I drove a two-inch spine of hawthorn into the middle joint of the index finger, and this on my right hand. It would have gone right through if there’d not been a bone in the way. I might have been better off if that had been the case, for now I have this toxic splinter riveted through my knuckle. I tried to pull it out but it broke at the tip, as thorns appear designed to do.
I should only be happy it was hawthorn and not the much more poisonous blackthorn, which almost always causes a septic reaction. Even so my finger has become an extension of my arm, with only a small narrowing where my wrist should be and my other right-hand digits mere buds, like Brussel sprouts at the side of a fat stalk.
And it hurts, as if all the nerve endings present in my body had gathered at this one tormented site. I watch for that telltale red poison line working its way up my arm, which has thankfully failed to materialise.
The hedge remains unfinished. I should have started at one end rather than in the middle. Now it looks as though a herd of cows have broken through and trampled a wide gap, rather than that an earnest hedge-cutter-gardener had been at work. I had been anxious to beat the deadline for such work – the first of March, it was, and as is so often the case haste led to my downfall.
In the meantime, James has been fishing for trout. He regales me in breezy terms of prodigious catches and of his newfound benevolence in returning his fishes to river pools rather than taking them home to eat. “Catch and release,” he says, “until there’s enough trout to eat again.” Is this what it has come to? With my hand resembling an over-inflated rubber glove there is no way I can accompany him, and he knows it.
“I’d go to the doctor with that,” he tells me from his socially distant far side of the garden wall. “When did you last have a tetanus jab?”
I didn’t want to answer. I couldn’t even contemplate such a thing. I remember the last time alright – I don’t suppose I’m alone in having an irrational fear of needles. My last tetanus shot involved a high-speed chase around the doctor’s surgery and ended in a corner filled with curtains, where a clinically efficient nurse administered what I felt was a potentially fatal blow.
“There now,” she’d said reproachfully, “That didn’t hurt a bit, did it?”
“Hurt? Hurt? You could have killed me with that thing! It’s a good job I got my arm in the way or I’d have been lanced through the heart!”
I owe my neighbour an apology.
Immediately prior to the offending thorn bringing my hedge trimming exercise to a premature end, I had been surveying a stout branch from one of his ash trees that had been overhanging my garden for years. He was nowhere to be seen. It seemed the opportune time to bring it down, so I took the ladder and a handsaw and set into the job.
I was halfway through when he turned up on his tractor. Not wanting to appear rude, I thought perhaps I would mention how the branch was a hazard and that I should like, if it was alright with him, to remove it.
We stood either side of the fence while I pointed out what needed to be done. ‘Yes,’ he agreed, it would be alright to cut the tree back as far as there. I could even keep the wood. No sooner had the words escaped his lips, there was a sudden gust of wind and a loud crack as the branch surprised us both by breaking free and falling to the floor.
Well, “I said, ‘that saved me a job.”
He shook his head and turned away, somewhat mystified as to how such a thing could happen.
And shortly after that came the episode with the thorn. Some would call it karma.
Now I have a little over two weeks until I shall be allowed to go as far as the river, which is just a little over 5k away. Two weeks, then, to regain the use of my hand, or to learn to cast with the other, although it will likely be autumn before I am right.