What do Dolphins and Nettles Have in Common?

A reporter was asked to write a story about the intelligence of dolphins, but he had no interest in writing it, and was in fact, resentful of his editor. He reluctantly went to the research lab to talk with the scientists and accompanied them on their morning ritual of greeting the dolphins through the glass of a big aquarium. He asked questions and took down the scientists’ answers, but then he just leaned against the glass and smoked a few cigarettes, while the scientists finished up.

The other dolphins swam away, but a six-week-old youngster stayed behind staring at the man. The little fellow seemed to be interested in this guy leaning against the glass smoking cigarettes. The reporter got so irritated by the inquisitive dolphin; he turned to him, took a large puff on his cigarette, and blew the smoke at the dolphin. It worked. Off the dolphin swam.

Then a few moments later, the little one was back. He swam up to the glass, waited until the man saw him, and blew a puff at him. Of course, he didn’t have smoke, so what had he done? The baby dolphin had gone and sucked in a mouthful of his mother’s milk, swam back holding the milk in his mouth, and when the man turned towards him, the dolphin puffed back at him.

The reporter’s experience with this dolphin changed his notion of animal intelligence and communication; perhaps, his way of relating to the world.

Water at Old Frog Pond Farm

Water at Old Frog Pond Farm

I feel similarly about the intelligence of plants on the farm. Plants can speak, if we can only hear them. Nettles are the ones that call to me the loudest. Growing abundantly in two areas on the farm, they seem to be saying, “Use us. We’re your allies!”

During WWII, the English drank nettle tea when there was little else available. The Tibetans, when they were escaping the Chinese invasion of their country, likewise ate nettles. Stinging nettles provide protein, as well as minerals like iodine, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, silica and sulfur, and they stimulate the immune system.

Occasionally I will make a nettle pesto, and I always dry some so that we can have nettle tea to drink all winter. But I also know that there are great benefits of nettles applied in the orchard as nettle tea. However, I don’t always get to spray this beneficial tea as early or as often as I like. Last year, I made a batch of nettles but let it steep for too long. The smell was so hideous I dumped it out and never did spray nettle tea all season.

Nettles growing (left) and raspberry rows (right) 

Nettles growing (left) and raspberry rows (right) 

A few days ago, while working in the raspberries I looked over at the nettle patch. It seemed uncanny that there should be so many growing. They called to me. I finished what I was doing, grabbed green rubber gloves so I wouldn’t get stung, scissors and a five gallon bucket, and filled it with a couple of pounds of the young nettle stalks. Then I added a couple of gallons of water.  As I was cutting the nettles I thought, these young tender plants will be the perfect spray for the first green leaves on the apple trees. Later, when the leaves are hardier, I will use the more mature leaves. Nature works that way. While the plants didn’t puff milk at me like the young dolphin, they did let me know that they are there to be used.

The Persian mystic poet, Hafiz, felt similarly about trees. 

An apple tree was concerned
about a late frost and losing its gifts
that would help feed a poor family close by. 

Can't the clouds be generous with what falls from them? 
Can't the sun ration itself with precision? 

They can speak, trees, 
they can say the sweetest things

but it takes special ears to hear them,
ears that have listened to people
with great care. 

The nettles are steeping on the back porch. I occasionally think about that young dolphin and smile.  The apple trees will soon blossom.