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Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

Having survived a rare April “atmospheric river,” all kinds of people were strolling on my street last Sunday, enjoying the sunshine.

They and I were sympatico, only I was being productive, giving our fruitless quince a trimming. Little did I realize I was risking my life or limb.

The quince shines for three weeks out of 52. That’s when barren branches erupt with red blossoms.

You’re supposed to trim it before it blooms, but I got distracted. So here I was, after the fact, armed with a sharp-edged clipper, going at it.

A neighbor popped out to get her paper. She paused to compliment our azalea.

This is a quince, I said by way of correction.

In retrospect, this was a dumb comment. Next to the quince was a blazingly pink azalea. Surely this is what caught her eye, but I was blind to it. I was on a quince mission.

Another neighbor walked by with her small dog. We remarked on the weather, then I explained my activity. I’m trimming my quince, I said.

I love saying the word. Quince, quince, quince. Someday it will become a distinguished child’s name. How can it not?

My neighbor shared one of her favorite springtime words: Forsythia.

As I returned to my labors, this mention of forsythia triggered a flight of fancy. I began thinking about the forsythia of my New England childhood, the profusion of forsythia I once saw in England in springtime, and my own Napa forsythia whose blooming had just ended.

My concentration must have wavered during this reverie. I suddenly felt a sharp prick in my left hand.

A quick look revealed nothing. Must have barely pinched it with my clipper, I concluded.

Then an ominous red line appeared on the edge of my palm, followed by a gush of blood.

What have you done, Courtney!

Stuffing my wound in my mouth so I wouldn’t drip on my clothing or the porch, I ran to the house, pausing to shout out to Cheryl who was out back pulling weeds.

What did I shout? I can’t recall. It boiled down to “help!”

As I ran inside, my shoes left a trail of muddy footprints. This was an appalling violation of our shoes-free house policy, but I was oblivious.

I could bleed to death!

Placing my bleeding hand under running cold water, I fumbled with my good hand for bandages in a drawer.

Thank heavens Cheryl showed up. I wasn’t getting anywhere.

“I cut myself,” I said, pointing to the crimson swirl going down the drain.

A nurse in all but training, Cheryl knew what to do. She disappeared to a supply closet where she keeps gear for practically any kind of household emergency. “We need a butterfly bandage,” she said.

She tore through the plastic tray of emergency gear, but the butterflies were nowhere to be had.

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Meanwhile, I was feeling lightheaded as I lost ever greater amounts of essential life liquid.

“You’re not going to faint, are you? Cheryl asked.

Of course not, I said, while thinking “maybe.”

“I’m going to lie down on the floor,” I said, still insisting I was not about to lose consciousness.

Cheryl applied disinfectants and a pair of non-butterfly self-adhesive bandages as I lay supine, sweat beginning to pour out of me.

Was this a symptom of a man about to faint? I vowed to Google this.

Cheryl finished the job by wrapping my palm in a self-adhesive strip of cloth. She’d stanched the flow in tidy fashion.

I got up feeling much better, but disturbed by my footprints on the rugs. In my panic, I had apparently lost all situational awareness.

Back to the quince I went, this time swapping out tiny clippers for large lopping shears that would keep both of my hands out of harm’s way.

Having survived my trauma, my springtime vibe quickly returned.

Soon a trio of strangers sauntered by. One of women called out, “Oh, the joys of home ownership.”

I nodded in agreement and pointed to my beloved quince. You should have seen it in bloom last month, I said.

Unspoken was the color of those March blossoms: blood red.

Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or


City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.