Whenever I change shoes, I endure a period of time when my feet have to press themselves into the insoles and teach my new chassures their ways. The friction and the emptiness between them leads the balls of my feet to fill with fluid which grow large and painful. Then they pop. An annoying flap of skin hangs in their place.
My mother used to tell me about how Calvin Coolidge’s son died because he popped his own blister with a needle. I have since learned that this isn’t bad if you have a clean needle, but recently I did something very stupid: I stripped the loose skin where the blister had been and paid for it in soreness and risked infection.
Only after I performed my little surgery did I learn that one shouldn’t do that. The skin forms a natural bandage and eventually reconnects with the foot to form a callous. I had to rub the exposed spot with antibiotic ointment and cover it with a bandage. When a large blister formed on the other foot, I left the skin in place, covered the area in ointment, and held it in place with a bandage. Oh, what a difference it made!
I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air—
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail.
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.
Robert Lowell, Skunk Hour
One night when I went out to the dumpster, I rounded the corner and saw a large black tail perched atop a white striped body ripping open a plastic bag. It took me less than a second to back out and run over to another dumpster. The garbage raider missed my presence and did not take aim.
We have plenty of skunks about in the summer. Sometimes I smell the rotten, nutty scent on a summer night or when I am driving down a highway. Mephitis mephitis roams the neighborhoods and country roads looking for fresh trash or road kill. Though I do my best to make sure that the trash bag gets into the dumpster, neighbor kids who are too short to reach the lid or too scared to stay long in the dark sometimes drop their loads on the concrete pavement inside the enclosure. This is where the hazard comes.
The heat of the day is oppressive, but you’ve taken care to bring along a full Camelbak plus a couple of extra bottles of water. A nice apple lines your pack. You’ve been sweating profusely. This does not faze you because you follow the rule of drinking water before you need it. So you know that you are well-hydrated and you still have plenty to drink.
Then it hits you: a headache combined with nausea. Oh, this is easy, you say to yourself. “I’ll just drink more water.” You slake your thirst but the headache and nausea do not go away as they usually do. Hmm. Maybe you need something to eat? You pull out your apple and reduce it to its core. The syndrome is getting worse. You throw up your emergency meal and the water you drank. What is going on?
The last rattlesnake I saw was wending its way down the Santiago Ranch Road from Vulture View in Whiting not two weeks ago. I looked up a little from my habitual scan of the trail and saw it, a fine copper-colored specimen with a set of black and white rings separating its diamondback from its bone-colored rattle. It ignored me, but I still had the problem of getting around it. So I scooted to the far side of the broad fire road and ventured a step at a time past it. The serpent would turn at me, flick its tongue, and threaten to rattle. I froze, held my pose for a second, took a picture, and then moved a little more. Once I got in front of it, the snake could contain its wrathful fear no more: it pulled itself into a loose coil and furiously shook its tail.
Red Diamond Rattlesnake, June 14, 2014
My count is up to five since February. I met four of them in Whiting and one in O’Neill. Word is that animal control officers are seeing more rattlesnakes than usual this season. Where there are rattlesnakes, there are snake bites, which is why I scold those who walk through their territory in bare feet, something I never do outside the condo — even on the street where I live.
When I met the first snake along the Vulture View Road, I did not see it until I put my foot down inches from its face. The rattler immediately encircled a deerweed and began its manic percussion. I jumped and scooted several feet away. My wife — who had walked by the spot a minute or so ahead of me — heard my habitual cry of distress which I don’t care to write about here and kept going. She thought I was having a fight with my camera. I immediately aimed and took a picture from a safe distance.
I remember reading about how the head of Duke University’s Medical School died of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever because a tick bit him and he didn’t realize it.
The fever and vomiting begin early. It is not until it has nearly killed you that the infamous spots appear. That is the start of the death knell.
So nothing creeps me out quite like finding a tick on my person. Or the dog. Or you.
Sign, Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary, Modjeska Canyon, California.
Summer offers mercies to the chaparral hiker. One of these is the change of the colors of poison oak from a glossy green to an autumnal red. Poison oak cannot be called an herb or a shrub or a vine or a tree: it can be any of these. I know of patches where it sprouts as a bush and other places where it throttles a tree. There is a spot in O’Neill Regional Park where it stretches to the forest canopy as a large sapling. If there is shade, there is probably poison oak mixed in the ground cover. And if there is sun, it may well be there, too. The pretty leaves tricked one hiker I know to use them as a wipe. How could anything so beautiful cause suffering? was the reasoning that passed through her head. Toxicodendron diversilobum is a most devious plant, the closest thing I can think of as an argument for intelligent design if not by a benevolent creator, then by a demon.
It felt like I was walking on a twig laid across where the forward ball of my foot ascended to the arch. I limped along, wondering what had gotten into my shoe. When I got home, I took my shoes and socks off. The sock had a huge hole and curled edges. I concluded that that was the cause of my suffering.
Yesterday, I found a pair of clean socks not in need of repair, put them on with my boots, and walked a few steps only to find that the pain had returned. I sat down in my red retro chair, took off the boot, and shook it. Nothing came out. I rolled off the sock and examined my foot where I found a long, irregular blister spread over the sore spot. The notion of puncturing it with a needle passed through my head but briefly: I did not want to be an heir in death to Calvin Coolidge, Jr.
A better remedy from Boy Scouts suggested itself: I taped a Bandaid over it. This pushed down the lump and prevented the skin from stretching as I walked. The pain bothered me just a little and only on slopes.
First aid for blisters.