Cambrian: Opinion

Mountain Musings: The unbearable itchiness of burs

Ultimate comfort: Kathy Unger of Cambria’s Moonstone Gallery, rides her Arabian horse (Meka), bareback. No blankets, no burs.
Ultimate comfort: Kathy Unger of Cambria’s Moonstone Gallery, rides her Arabian horse (Meka), bareback. No blankets, no burs. PHOTO COURTESY OF ROBERT UNGER

Why might a horse buck off its rider? Maybe there’s a bur under the saddle blanket. Like a splinter in the finger or an eyelash in the eye — a bur is one of those things that just can’t be ignored.

Summers in these Santa Lucia Mountains are full of tall dry grasses, the heads of which are laden with prickly, barbed and spiked seed husks. Quite naturally, they are perfectly designed to cling to whatever goes by. They grab on. They dart in. They weave their way deep into layers of fabric and tissue. Then their pointy ends take jabs at you and rub you raw.

Of course, certain clothes attract stickers and burs more than others. Denim jeans are a fine choice. But sweats, well — you’ll be tempted to throw them away if you wear them into the weeds. Same goes for socks and even some footwear.

Shoes with laces are magnets for the miniature porcupine kind of burs. Hiking shoes with that breathable mesh type material are a nightmare because foxtails and other grasses easily and deeply impale them. Not so with leather boots.

If, after a day of wilderness adventures, your clothes are covered in stickers, be sure to pick off every last one of the little buggers before you do the wash.

In the laundry they migrate. They meander their way into each item in the machine — including undies, shirts and sheets. Day and night, your tender skin would be scrubbed by small boar-bristle brushes every time you rolled over or took a step.

So sit down somewhere, other than your garden — this way you won’t sow the weed seeds in your flowers — and, with gloved hands, swipe off the roly-poly burs. Then take a pair of needle nose pliers to the tough embedded spears. Trust me — it’s worth the time and effort to be thorough — especially if you enjoy the comfort factor as much as a horse does.

You definitely don’t want rice-sized Velcro burs in your bedding, or sewing needle-sized stickers in your undershorts. That would be irritating. And hey, you don’t have to be a horse to nag about something like that.


Year four! Mountain Musings is entering its fourth year of publication with The Cambrian! Marcia Rhoades and I have been sharing the column. We thank you very much for reading it.

Special thanks to those of you who took the time to comment, compliment or criticize my articles. All contributed to the growth of me as a writer as well as an evolving human being.

—Appreciatively, Michele Oksen

Michele Oksen (over lives in Cambria’s mountain community in the Santa Lucia range.