Friday, August 19, 2011

Folklife Friday: Poison Ivy


Itch, itch, scratch, scratch. Cry. Scratch again.

Poison oak (3 leaves) and poison ivy (5 leaves) are horrendous, loathsome enemies of summer that disguise themselves as lovely green plants.

I've known the two pests since I can remember anything, as familiar to my youth as green apples and swimming holes. We had pink splotches from calamine lotion that gave temporary relief, and washing with baking soda helped some. We used every cure we heard about and had access to, but time was the only one that really worked.





Most of us got it, the rash scattered among the chigger bites. A very few escaped because of body chemistry or tough skin or whatever. My baby boy was in that group; a good thing because he has spent much of his life in the woods. My firstborn son, however, was ultra sensitive to it, and exposure required a trip to the doctor for a series of shots. Wise son that he is, if he suspects exposure now, he goes ahead with the shots while the rash and blisters are still immature enough to handle.




When our sons were small, we were living in an old farmhouse that had a wonderful garden spot. The garden was fenced to keep out wildlife and chickens and to keep the weeds under control. Y'all know I don't like clutter, so in the fall when I pulled up the bean poles (stakes, to the uninformed), I threw them over the fence to keep my garden nice and tidy. Next spring, when the young Blue Lakes began to put out tendrils, I rescued the poles and staked the beans. Turns out, the poles had been resting in poison oak plants for several months. It was a warm late-spring day, and I had to constantly wipe the sweat off my face while I was working. Next morning, I woke up feeling strange and nauseated. My face was a puff-ball with my eyes swollen almost together. It was a week, a long, miserable week, before all the swelling went down.
Lesson learned.

Years later, I prepared to pick blackberries by putting on appropriate protective clothing. I decided to wear plastic gloves instead of cloth ones; it made the picking so much easier. I picked for a long time. In some unexplained way, the poison ivy got on my covered arms and the sweat carried it down to my hands in the plastic gloves. The sweat pooled between my fingers. That time, I had huge blisters between my fingers that looked like something from a cheap horror movie. My hands horrified small children and adults alike. Another lesson learned.





Nowadays, if I see a plant lurking near my yard, I point it out to dear husband and he puts some sort of vile chemical on it and it dies. I love the dirt as much as anyone, but when it comes to poison ivy, chemicals are the only way. Its a lesson learned hard.

I try to end these ramblings with a positive note. I'm still thinking.