A friendly travel advisory

The other day—a beautiful, windless October morning—I was hiking off trail with my faithful canine, when I had to go! Try telling that to a dog who considers any place suitable for when he has to go. Dogs have us well trained, catering to their lack of discretion with pretty little bags of every colour. But for me? Stuck in the middle of nowhere with no porta-potty in sight? Sorry, dear dog, we gotta get back to the car. NOW.  

My first thought, as we bee-lined through the farmer’s field, was of homeless people. How do they do it? Seriously, toilets are one of the basic necessities of life. When I delivered mail, I got out of the coffee drinking habit mostly because I couldn’t be guaranteed a rest stop when I needed one. 

As I hurried the sniffing dog along, I remembered a similar situation during last year’s bike trip. After we’d crossed the border from Lithuania into Russia on the Curonian Spit, there was a sudden decline in the availability and the cleanliness of the washroom facilities. We were cycling past a lot of empty fields and decided that the wilderness was a better place to go. 

Romus, our tour guide, warned us to watch out for the stinging nettle. Yes, the field was full of the waist-high weed. I’d grown up hearing about stinging nettle, called brennessel, in German. My mom and her sisters survived on it during the hunger years in eastern Germany, using it for soups and teas. 

A quick reference check, and I learn that stinging nettle, once dried, does indeed count as one of nature’s powerhouses. An anti-oxidant, it can lower blood pressure, treat arthritis, provide necessary nutrients, and even cause abortions—something the local women might have sought out in 1945 after the Red Army frenzy of rapes. 

But you shouldn't let fresh stinging nettle touch your skin . . . unless you want an itchy rash for the rest of the day.  The leaves are not to be used as a replacement for the double-layered softness of bathroom tissue.  Just a friendly travel advisory. 

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