Brambles and Burning Nettle: Shortcuts

Shortcuts aren’t always what they seem: a childhood lesson I learned all too well during a painful hike with my brother. Nicholas and I left our home in rural southwestern Ontario one bright summer morning with packs on our backs and adventure on our minds. Our plan was simple enough: hike east along the banks of the Nine Mile River, make camp when it got dark, sleep under the stars and walk home the next day.

Of course, whenever Nicholas and I hatch a plan, it rarely goes smoothly.

We put in a lot of miles the first day and the winding nature of the river we followed added a lot more distance to our trip. At one point we decided to cut through a large patch of thigh-high plants in an attempt to avoid a long, lazy bend in the river.

Those thigh-high plants turned out to be burning nettle. Burning nettle (or stinging nettle) is covered in stinging “hairs” whose tips come off when touched. These tips lodge themselves in your skin and release histamine and other chemicals, which in turn produces the tell-tale stinging sensation.

And boy, howdy, did they sting. Especially since we were wearing shorts.

Burning nettle: Not as innocent as it looks.

Our second attempt at shortcuttery occurred the next morning. Exhausted from our long hike the day before, Nicholas and I dreaded the winding hike back home. There was a more direct option however. It involved cutting through the woods to the north and finding our way to side road 4 and following that home.

Great in theory. Soul-crushingly miserable in practice.

The “woods” to the north proved to be a far more formidable challenge than we expected. More wall than woods, the dense and sharp brambles stymied us at every step. Through a combination of Martin stubbornness and the brute strength of my baby brother, we bullied our way north. Very… very… s-l-o-w-l-y.

By the time we emerged on the other side we were bloodied and so exhausted I’d have laid down in a bed of burning nettle if it meant I could take a nap. But the 4th was still a couple farmers’ fields away so we pushed onward, wincing as the morning dew from the ankle-high beans stung the open wounds on our legs.

Moral of the story: Like hiking along the Nine Mile River, there are no shortcuts in life. Shows like American Idol and X Factor feed the fantasy of the overnight success. Living in the Age of the Instant, with our need for immediate gratification, feeds it even further. Way more often than not though, success involves hard work, perseverance, patience, discipline and yes, taking the long way home.

Got a lesson you learned from one of life’s absurd moments that you want to share? Click here to submit your story.


Funny stories. Good advice. Check out my books, “Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in balance from life’s absurd moments.” and “Balancing Priorities and Prioritizing Balance”. Click here to learn more and to purchase a copy.

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One Response to Brambles and Burning Nettle: Shortcuts

  1. Pingback: Making New Year’s Resolutions Stick | Josh Martin Ink

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