Let’s start with this beautiful blade of grass…
Alright folks, time for a little botanical trivia. Ready?
Do you recognize this guy?
The twig there, kinda’ middle right?
How bout these?
See ’em? All 3 sorta’ shooting up at the same angle? Left-bearing? And the one blurry one aiming right for the camera in the foreground?
OK, let’s try a different tack…
How about these guys?
To be fair, it’s early spring, and I’m certainly not giving you the most recognizable mugshot.
This, my friends, is the dreaded Poison Ivy. Mature, herbaceous turned woody. Damn-near vining. Seed-producing and cocky. None of the tell-tale off-balance triple leaves yet, though they’re coming.
Oh, they’re coming.
Until a week and a half ago, both Scott and I were under the untested yet reasonable assumption that neither of us were actually allergic to PI, that we were both in that coveted 10% that just doesn’t have a reaction to the beast. We’d been in contact so many times, and what are the chances that we washed the oils off every single time? Not good, not good. Clearly, we are immune.
Turns out, we were wrong.
We’ve had mild PI infestations here and there throughout the homestead down through the years, but through luck and persistence, most of those patches have been eradicated.
We’ve also had some mild (and not so mild) PI reactions through the child population of said homestead.
Back when Rachel was wee, she somehow managed to get PI quite literally all over her face. We were baffled. Did the kid just go out into the woods on the hunt, find what she was looking for, and then burrow her face into it like a bouquet of flowers? Nowhere else on her body was touched. Just a disconcertingly swollen and miserable face. I’d dig up pictures, but methinks I’d be getting a phone call for that one.
A few other kids would get it here and there, ankles, fingers, toes, all the places that dig in the dirt, and sometimes don’t have the PI goggles on. None as bad as the Rachel incident, but enough that the whole fam did eventually learn how to spot the PI monster from afar, how to don the goggles with expert precision and tread lightly in suspect areas. Was Rachel the best spotter among them? Yes. Yes, she was.
The verdict on Rachel’s face, by the way, came through the best theory proposed, by my buddy, Reb: “Oh, honey, it makes perfect sense. She was out there in the woods like always, frolicking and enjoying each and every leaf, even the poisonous ones, she touched her face a million times, brushing this away and scratching that spot, and then she came inside and washed her hands just like you’ve taught her to do. Like the good girl she is. If only she’d washed her face, too, you never would have known.” This was all very, VERY plausible, and entirely more likely than the bouquet hypothesis.
Anyhoo, back to the infestations of the Ottinger Ranch…
Probably at least ten years ago, the crap started popping up along our driveway, right there where it ducks into the woods. At least that’s when we started noticing it. This is prime PI territory, and when we disturbed the whole works bringing in the driveway, I think we set a match to that wick. We saw it, the menace, but we didn’t know what to do about it, so we just let it go. Taught everyone to ID it, and to avoid that particular patch of land, and just let it run.
That was dumb.
I’ve watched that PI Patch grow exponentially every year. It is not pretty.
In the interim, we’ve had other areas bloom. Right down by the chicken coop, our woods produced a bumper crop one year. I spent that summer weekly inspecting the whole area of woods, and delicately pulling each sighting of the triple-leaf beast. With double gloves. ‘Twas young, that PI, and over the course of the summer, my will alone was enough to strip that tender vine of life.
The next year it started sprouting out of our junk wood pile, out by the fire pit. Same story. I stared it down. And I won.
And this year, as I walked by the elephant down the driveway every day, noting the sheer magnitude of the 2021 crop, and the preponderance of PI berries amongst the foliage, I thought to meself, maybe it was time to wage that war.
I called in the reinforcements, and the gloves, and Scott and I set to work yanking those twigs and their spiderwebs of roots from the earth. That was 10 days ago. It quickly became evident that this PI was entrenched. The root system expansive. The support network mature and intimidating.
We made that first run, as best we could, and gave up as the sun set, knowing that we’d be coming back, as we had only knocked the tip off of the iceberg. We showered like mad, sudsed like we’d never sudsed before, and went to bed.
48 hours later, Scott was covered in blisters. Poor guy. We’re not sure what happened there, but the only plausible explanation is that the intense levels of care involved in cleaning up were abandoned as he threw the polluted clothes in the washer, thereby smearing his clean hands anew with the urushiols and then systematically depositing them on every part of his body that needed a little scratch before bed. Thankfully, his face and other critical areas were itch-free that night.
The other possibility, that we just can’t rule out, is that the roots have a more concentrated level of the oils, and that while the leaves don’t seem to bother him, we now know that the roots DO.
Still, I somehow came out smelling like blister-free roses. Whew.
Either way, it is clear that Scotty is not immune. Who knew?
(I will spare you pictures of this PI incident as well. For it is gross.)
You see the problem, right? We had to go back out there.
The job was only just begun.
Last night, we devised an equitable division of labor. Scott would wield the rake, as further contact held disastrous potentials. I would do the dirty work. Because I am the tough one.
Of course, at this point, I am wearing somewhat of a cape, a thing that happens every time Scott actually falls victim to something that I don’t. These are rare occurrences, you see, what with that insane immune system he has, and what with my general levels of delicacy. But it does happen sometimes, where the man is laid low and I am left standing. My head can’t help but puff a little really; the cape just grows back there, of its own accord.
So, of course, at this point, I doubt that I was quite as careful as I was last Sunday.
And this morning, right where my exposed skin took the bulk of the brushes, we find a little dermatological anomaly. Two of them, actually. One the size of a sweet pea, and one just a pin prick. Strangely, they don’t look like PI blisters. They look like a dirt tattoo, like someone embedded a little bit o’ earth in my skin. Or like the melanin in one of my freckles literally exploded and spattered out of its usual bounds. Not even raised. Also, there is no itch.
So, turns out, I may not be immune either. Huh. That’s a bummer.
My morning walk revealed no less that 32,000 more PI-twigs, not to mention their heinous underground network, still out there in the cleared areas. You go blind after a while, you know? Clear it all out, turn around, and the stuff regenerates behind your back.
So, I guess we’ll see how the day progresses. You know I’m looking forward to that.
In other news, this morning’s walk did uncover a small victory out at the real end of the driveway.
You see, years and years ago, Emily and Andrea, and possibly a rotating crop of uncommitted helpers, took it upon themselves to dig up a few dozen wagonloads of the day lily population out along our ditch.
They transplanted those babies all over the place. In the perennial beds. All around the propane tank. In the tree islands. Along the driveway. In the woods. Everywhere. The final installations landed neatly on either side of the bus shack out there at the end of the driveway, and on either side and in between our mailboxes, the neighbor’s and ours.
Along came last spring, and we finally get a new road. And a new shoulder. Like loads and LOADS of new shoulder. So. Much. Gravel.
The lilies out by the driveway were buried in feet of subgrade. So sad.
Yet this spring, there erupted, haggard and worn, lilies. They each looked exactly like you’d expect of a tender green shoot who’d just clawed through an extra ton of gravel, which it turns out, also resembles how you might expect them to look after being trampled by elephants.
I was floored that they even survived the razing of the land, much less the burial and compaction that followed. But there they were, sad but victorious.
First to emerge was the largest clump, there in front of our box.
Now the state of the lily has been impacted by our recent overnight hard frosts, yes, but truth be told, it didn’t look much better than that before the frost. It was one helluva rough ride.
On the other side, beyond the nieghbor’s box, life overcame as well, just a little more slowly, probably directly proportionate to the inches of substrate each had to overcome.
But there in the middle, the situation was dire. It appeared that our littlest of lilies would remain in her forever grave beneath the mailboxes.
Check. Her. Out.
Dislodged that last rock like a power-lifter.
Never ceases to amaze, nature. Just leaves you shaking your head. Wow.
So, you take the bad with the good.
This is easy for me to say in the current moment, as the itching has yet to begin. Check in with me tomorrow.
If you need me, I’ll be staring at my arm,