Desert Companion

Riff, Under the Disgusting Parasitic Plant Thing


Illustration by Brent Holmes

A mistletoe story

On a recent Sunday afternoon, we were walking the nature-lite paths of the Springs Preserve — highly recommended if you’re feeling a little lazy with a 20 percent chance of hangover but you promised your spouse you’d go hiking on Sunday and this is a plausible compromise, isn’t it?, please, come on — and my wife points and goes, “What is that?” It looked like a dirty clump of spaghetti angrily hurled into the branches of a dying tree.

“That’s mistletoe,” I said. “It’s a parasite.”

BOOOOW — here I presume to imagine that summer-movie-trailer bass drop sound effect slo-mo shockwaving through my wife’s mind. We’re talking a multiphase epiphany here:

1) Seeing actual mistletoe for the first time (she’s not from here) after a lifetime of it previously existing in a gauzy conceptual realm as the mythical/official plant of happy holiday smoochery; and ...

2a) Seeing it not as some jolly, richly berry-laden sprig exuding Yule spirit and free-floating eros, but instead as a haggy gnarl of carious yellow blight; and ...

2b) Learning that not only is it hella ugly, but that it’s a parasite that can kill entire trees and sicken pets; and ...

3) You know that weird high you get from having a juicy secret to tell, rumor to drop, or jarring botanical facts to mindfreak people with? My stupid mouth kept going.

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“Yeah, it can kill entire trees and sicken pets! Most people think it’s this harmless sprig exuding Yule spirit, but it’s, like, pretty hardcore. I’ve seen it take down entire trees in real time, swarming upon the branches like crazed gremlins …” I should have turned the moment around with something like, “But, oh, when it grows plump and hale during its seasonal tumescence, the mistle-berries swell and sparkle with, O, such seasonal savor!” But I swear I’ve never seen mistletoe anywhere in the valley like that. Romance and felicity fast-bleeding from the scene, we both obeyed an unconscious urge to move on to consider the Springs Preserve’s historic water-pumping-mechanism display.

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