During some indeterminate afternoon in the mid or maybe late 1980s, while the trailing edge of summer drooped about the air like a luscious leaden apron, an exploratory assignment was well under way on the ungroomed frontiers of our small and private suburban forest. A vast pasture of junipers had yet to be claimed; but a passage to this uncharted country, on this day, had still to be forged. I would take the western face, bordering the splintered wooden fence, beyond which was expansive nothing.

The dandelions parted as I roved, leaving their pasty, yellow brushstrokes across the fleshy spots just below my kneecaps. Being of some experience in these expeditions, I must have thought myself annealed to the routine dangers of such research; for on this occasion, as well as many others, I had found the protection of footwear apparently cumbersome. But with a sudden, vicious strike, my hubris was quickly waxed: a spear of such greatness entered my heel that I was assured its tip had embedded itself as deeply as my goldened knee. Doubtless, some angry weed, disturbed from years of tranquility by my imperious trampling, flung his great harpoon as I cavalierly stomped his neighbors.

Without deliberation the excursion was cut short. One heel held high above the ground, the other fully operational, I cut laterally across the well-travelled grass like a half-ballerina with less than half the suggested grace.

Though this may have been the first of such wounds I experienced, I somehow knew that upon reaching my encampment the real misery would ensue; for to live and explore another day, this dagger must be removed.

The doctor—who by no matter of chance was also the chef, the financier, the director, and in fact the chief owner and authority of this exploratory committee—saw, with a twinkling eye, one of his subordinates, superficially stuck, hobbling his way. He barely evinced a near sinister grin.

“Let me see it,” He calmly, patronizingly, slightly laughingly exclaimed while producing a small, wood-clad pocket knife from where else but his pocket.

“No!” I cried, knowing that the plank must be extracted, but recoiling violently from my father’s grasp.

“I have to dig it out,” he said, probably not saying dig, but meaning it all the same as he brandished the dull, silvery steel.

I must have escaped, because I recall scuttling across the deck, feeling in every other step the potential to drive that wooden stake ever farther into my flesh. At that point the pain was purely psychological: effected solely by the thought and image of a javelin protruding from my lower half.

Still betraying his mischievous glee, my father, the surgeon, entered his infirmary briefly and returned, having traded his scalpel for a much less terrorizing tweezer.

“I just want to look at it,” he lied. “I promise not to touch it; we may have to take you to the hospital.”

With that, he gently examined my tarnished foot. I could not witness the carnage that had wrought upon my heel, but instead remained fixed on the expression of the healer as he surveyed. All his rascally joy had washed away; he looked at me softly, told me the spear had been withdrawn; that no further treatment was needed, the operation went smoothly.

The evening promised to be a luxurious respite in the safe environs of the well-known territories. Perhaps the late season mosquitoes, thriving in the heavy, humid thickness, would present the greatest dangers. But that was most easily allayed.

The following days, months, and years, would be an unending tour in the same perilous terrain of the yard. But as those days passed, the world seemed to shrink, the junipers grew shallow. Beyond the rugged boundary of wood planks and galvanized nails the unearthly expanse grew manageable, so long as I had respect enough to wear my shoes.


  1. This is as true a story as I can muster after so many years. Probably, a very similar thing occurred many times in the backyard of my childhood home. But the memory of this sliver, which turned out to be the spike of a dandelion weed, was most memorable, mostly due to the demeanor that my father took on; as what in his mind was a harmless splinter, yet to me was a very serious injury. That backyard seems so small now.

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