Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Cautionary Tale

Picking Raspberries
Barefoot Birding
Raspberries and Blackberries
Blackberry Blossoms
Red Raspberries
Bucket of Raspberries
Bee Careful Picking Berries
Bees Hang Out in Grass
Me, Learning to Ride and Speak Slang
San Benito, CA
Where Ancestors Settled
Ranches, Orchards and Turkeys
Curious Man
One Way to Have Hubby Finish Chores
First Note of Caution:
While this is a home-grown birding blog, a place for a simple believer to reflect and a hopeful storyteller to spin yarns, it is also about country-living. And sometimes the truth of the tales to be told go beyond a G-rating.

This is one of those blogs.

The female anatomy in no way offends me; I fully embrace that I am a woman. However, it may not be the conversation you are expecting from a blogger bird-nerding on a pond in northern Idaho. But things happen when outside, interacting with the environment. If a horse stepped on my toes, I'd tell you about my feet. If I fell into the pond, bruising my elbow, I'd tell you about my arm.

Believe me, I did not call the shots on the injured anatomy of today's story, although in retrospect, I could have exercised some common sense. Now that I feel like Chaucer, having given the reader my disclaimer, here is the day's cautionary tale.

Bee Aware:
When outside birding, gardening and especially plucking raspberries, wear underwear.

The day dawns cool, but quickly grows hot and dry. Todd and I eat slices of butter-fried ham with a fresh peach oven pancake, which is custard-like and naturally sweet from the fruit. We chat over coffee, and decide where to fish later this afternoon. I mention picking more raspberries to finish off a batch of raspberry peach jam. Todd offers to pick.

"The Blackberries are coming on next, " I say.

"Blackberries won't fruit if they are growing with the raspberries," Todd says.

For 25 years I've debated this man enough to know I have to show him proof. Todd likes facts, and the fact of the matter is, the blackberry canes are bursting with the beginnings of green berries that will one day blacken into late summer sweetness. So I tell him that I'll show him.

Now mind you, I'm in my thin summer nightshirt and nothing else. I promise you, this is not normally how I dress for birding, gardening or writing; it's just been a loitering kind of morning interspersed with office work and kitchen chores. And it's been hot. And it's just me and my husband--empty-nest, no guests and no close neighbors. Who cares if I'm wearing underwear or not.

We step outside and I giggle to Todd about my attire, to which he makes a sassy husband-like reply. He's grabbed the bucket to harvest red raspberries and I only mean to show him the blackberries. But as he starts plucking, I can't help but join in. The breeze is yet cool, the birds are pipping in the pines and we're talking about sweet jam. Out of habit, I squat down to gleen from the lower branches. It feels so good, this living-in-the-country freedom.

Until I feel a sting. No buzz, no tickle, no warning just a horrible reminder that I have on no underwear. With the reflexes of Wonder Woman I strike at the bee between my legs and actually pluck it away, flinging it to the grass. Bow-legged and appalled, I stand up and cry out, "My panocha! A bee stung my panocha!"

Let's pause a moment to discuss language. I know my female anatomy; I know the right words for my private parts. But there's something primal about a crisis that thrusts us into the dialect of childhood. San Benito County, California is inland from the San Francisco Bay and worlds apart from Silicon Valley. Among ranches older than the state itself, this was where I was born. Mexican land grants created old ranchos that raised cattle and grapes, and Mission San Juan Bautista was built in 1797.

My family tilled hay, tended cattle and raised turkeys among the oak-strewn golden hills called the Gabilans. The community is a melting pot of old Californios, Italians, Basque, Portuguese, Scots and other gold-seeking pioneers that came in the 1850s. John Steinbeck walked where I rode horses. My great-grandfathers planted apricot trees and rode in rodeos that I rode in, too.

The language that surrounded me as an impressionable child was a melting pot of cowboy English, pigeon Portagee and Mexican American slang. Thus I have ingrained in me such words that gained my mother's glare when spoken such as putah, chichis and panocha.

The first time I ever saw a Chi Chis restaurant in Minnesota, I choked, laughing that anyone would called a mexican-food place "boobies." But evidently, the slang did not extend that far north, so no one knew why I cracked up anytime someone from work suggested we go have margaritas at Chi Chis.

Most people recognize putah, as in the insult, "Tu madres es putah," meaning your mama is a street-walker. But that's not how I heard it used growing up. Putah was an exclamation like "holy crap" and I said it a lot. In fact, if you surprise me today, I might just holler, "Putah! You scared me!"

In New Mexico and Colorado, panocha is a pudding; in Spanish it refers to raw sugar. In my world, it's slang for vulva. So, yes, simultaneously crying and laughing to the point of hysterics--because really, who ever gets stung on the panocha?--I waddle toward the house stunningly stung.

Not much ever flabbergasts my husband, but he was looking as puzzled as Richard Neil must have looked upon discovering the joy of a woman's menstrual cycle has nothing to do with extreme sports and blue liquid.

By the time we get into the house I'm sobbing, more out of cowardly fear for the sweet stung spot, with intermittent bursts of "I can't believe this!"

Todd came to his senses and I truly thank God that my husband was home as the man had to find and remove the stinger. Ever the curious man, he has thoroughly examined the stinger under magnifying glass and affirms it was "definitely a honey-bee." Not that I was trying, but Todd covered the rest of my chores.

Evidently bees find women sweet as raw sugar. Therefore protect thy sweetness, fair ladies. Next time I pick raspberries, I'm wearing a chastity belt!


  1. Waiting for my potato to heat up, so I'm catching up on some old posts.

    I almost fell out of my chair laughing so hard! This is such a funny story and you beautifully weave the painful experience with history, reflection and home. What memory to laugh at now. A stinging reminder of summer; almost makes me want cold year-round!

    1. I'm glad you found this one, as I was thrilled with the opportunity to explore my linguistic roots. Just didn't expect a honey-bee to remind me of childhood words!