Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
Aspen CO, Colorado
It was the 3rd of July, awhile back, and the hospital called me in to help sort out a testy problem they were having with a couple of emergency room patients.
Apparently this pair, great imitations of “hippies,” if not the real thing, had eaten something up around Lenado that was rather rapidly killing them, but no one could figure out what it was.
The male of the duo put a grime-covered hand over one eye, partially hiding his long, bedraggled beard, and declared in a shaky tone of voice that even though he could still see double, he might want to take this trip again if he came through the first one alive.
All this time, his girlfriend, lying on a gurney next to him and slowly becoming paralyzed from the extremities in, was going on about the delicious wild baby carrots they’d had for lunch, and which they had found growing all around their cabin.
With the mention of wild baby carrots, my mind suddenly flashed on the exalted ” albeit dead ” company of Socrates, the Greek philosopher executed for heresy by being forced to drink poison hemlock. I suppose in those days he might even have been called blasphemous, had the word existed. Nonetheless, in the days of early summer, shoots of poisonous hemlock grow uninterrupted throughout most of the Roaring Fork tributaries, and they do imitate wild carrots, to some degree ” although given the smell, it would have to be very hungry, or very uninformed, individuals who would choose to ingest such unappetizing fare. In the end, the diagnosis was made, and their lives spared, but it was, indeed, close.
Like it always has, I reckon, the age of enlightenment continued on in Aspen while downvalley, another plant, of a different sort, had burrowed its existence into the consciousness of residents close to Basalt. Tansy, or more formally, Tanacetum vulgare, had been introduced by the early settlers and took hold in the area around Hook’s Spur. (Contrary to popular belief, Captain Hook was not forced to abandon ship at the current site of Hook’s Spur Bridge, but, more correctly and unrelated to the villain, a Mr. and Mrs. Hook lived in the immediate vicinity. We shall dispense with their first names to forever bar them from being further embroiled in this weedy and nefarious tale.)
In any event, tansy came from Europe, where it served as an ornamental garden plant, and was no doubt brought to the Roaring Fork Valley by those thinking a bit of tansy couldn’t hurt. If you think about it, tansy had its uses, for mostly all the right reasons. A bit of tansy in the shoes was said to help prevent persistent fever. In mythological times, tansy was given to the Trojan prince Ganymede to make him immortal and has been traditionally carried to encourage a lengthy life. Ants don’t like tansy, and it is a wise person who sprinkles it where they trail. The leaves of this plant are also widely used to repel insects.
Tansy is noxious to livestock if they ingest it and can cause serious gastric distress, as well as spontaneous abortion. Thus, an extrapolation of thought was made by those of the era ” those days my daughter calls “olden” ” well before the age of Roe v. Wade, that a wizened and nasty woman living in the Hook’s Spur area and well-versed in the uses of tansy was capable of inducing abortions in young girls facing unwanted pregnancies.
Like ghosts in deserted houses, it may all have been the result of overactive imaginations or wishful thinking, and I doubt anyone believes such nonsense today, but occasionally an older woman can still be heard to say: “Let’s not go that way. Someone’ll think I’m pregnant.”
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