May 08, 2006

Lovely leaves of three

redleavesofthree

They unfolded last weekend, all through my woods, springing up underfoot and along vines that wrap every tree trunk. Beautiful reddish leaves, translucent in the sunshine, with lovely veins and rich colour. Within days, they will open fully, the red turning to glossy green, a gorgeously green layer of leaves lining the shady areas of the woods, climbing up trees and stumps. All summer, their green leaves will be visible everywhere – covering up the dead brown tree leaves on the floor of the forest, decorating grey tree trunks. In the fall, the green will drain from the leaves again, and the gorgeous red colour will glow from trees along the edge of my front yard. After the first hard frost of the fall, I will walk in the woods to find the leaves under my feet all turned a bright yellow, a cheerful glow that will remain until winter comes.

Perhaps the most famous of plants in my area, these leaves – and their clusters of three, with two leaves tight together and then a stem shooting out to show one more leaf – can be readily identified by even young children, often one of the first plants their parents teach them to identify. A most persistent plant, it crops up in gardens, along the edges of yards, and in all the shady places that beckon a weary hiker.

But poison ivy is just more than a pretty plant. The juice from the crushed leaves will spread a raw, bubbling, blistering rash across my wrists, my ankles, along the folds of skin between my fingers. The more often you get poison ivy, the worse the rash can be, and I’ve had poison ivy rash far too many times to count. The most painful places to get it, I’ve found, are the underneath of my neck, and on the white skin of my breasts, although I have male friends who say that they have had it in a place even worse. ("Always, always wash your hands before going to the outhouse – that’s all I’ve got to say," said North Country Boy when we discussed this in class.)

I've come to realize that poison ivy and I like the same places, the cool shady places beneath the trees, wonderful places to sprawl on a hot summer day. When I return from a walk in my woods, I stand on the edge of my front porch and take my sneakers off without touching them, kicking them off to lie in the sun, which will dry the juice. When I come in from mowing the lawn, I remove all my clothes immediately and wash my entire body.

Whether I am in the woods or in my own yard, I am always looking out for those pretty leaves, respectful of what they can do to me. Too much daydreaming on a hike or an impulsive roll on the ground can lead to days of painful itching. Poison ivy teaches me to be mindful -- to think before I reach to grab a vine, to notice what is on the ground before I impulsively take off my clothes, and most of all, to look at what is beneath my feet.

18 comments:

zelda1 said...

My son is very allergic to the beautiful ivy. His doctor said that in the tombs of Egyptians were found dried ivy, even places where the ivy touched after all those years still as potent as ever. Vinegar neutralizes it. When he gets the rash, the blisters, we put vinegar on right away, and it begins to dry it out. Even when he goes into the woods and maybe didn't touch the ivy, he still uses vinegar. One year he had it so bad, they put him in the hospital. Yep, sure did. But you're right, it is a beautiful plant and I love the way it totally covers the telephone poles in our area. Great picture.

OTRgirl said...

Beautiful photo! It conveys the hidden danger.

I remember watching an outdoor play in college where the hero had to play with some leaves, smell them, and later rub his eyes. It was fall, the leaf was yellow. And he was in the hospital the next day.

I have to take steroids at this point whenever I get poison ivy. The only thing that makes it feel any better is putting the itchy patch in a running stream of the hottest water I can stand. It's like itching it without touching it, and for a few hours the itch subsides to a dull throb.

jo(e) said...

Zelda1: Yeah, I rinse with vinegar sometimes when I've been exposed to poison ivy. It does seem to help.

And OTRGirl, I often put my wrists under hot water when I have poison ivy. It itches intensely while the water is on it, but then after it feels better.

Even with all my precautions, I still get poison ivy. I swear, I could watch a documentary about it on televison, and I'd break out with the rash the next day.

My mother and husband, on the other hand, don't get it at all. Doesn't that seem unfair?

peripateticpolarbear said...

Well, I've blogged this before, but I'm so allergic to PI that I have to carry an epi-pen. That whole breathing thing is problematic.

But I must put in a plug for the only over the counter product that relieved the itch for me (the hospital could only treat the lack of breathing, I still had the itch to contend with...grr...) Zanfel. It's expensive but worth every penny. It's over the counter, although often behind the counter because of its cost---generally about 30 bucks for a tube. That stuff takes the itch right out. It's so beautiful I could cry.

And I think it's unfair that you took a beautiful picture of a mean plant!

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

ARGH - this is the one time one of your posts hasn't made me feel all calm and happy and relaxed, jo(e)! That stuff is my nemesis. As a kid I didn't have any reaction to it, so I could go hiking through the woods with impunity. Karma has punished me for my insolence, though, because now I've developed a full-fledged sensitivity to the stuff, *and* I have it growing all through the bushes in the front yard. Currently in Year Two of the process of digging it all out without killing myself in the process.

jo(e) said...

PPB: Oh, you mentioned Zanfel last year, and I did try it. It's really expensive, though, when you have to share that little tube with a whole gang of teenagers. (My mom and husband do not get poison ivy rash, but everyone else in my extended family do ....)

Pilgrim: You have to get someone who isn't allergic to dig it out. Want me to send my Mom over?

Ianqui said...

That really is quite the photo. I love that just the leaves are in focus.

Mrs. Coulter said...

A beautiful photo. I, too, learned to identify poison ivy as a small child. And yet, despite all my years of romping through the woods barefoot and in shorts, I have never gotten it. Since my cousins have all had it many times, I think I must be immune to it. Our usually avoidance strategy (which worked sometimes for them) was an immediate dip in the lake. We were always told that cold water was best, so after running through the clearings where poison ivy grew, we'd plunge ourselves into the water for a long, leisurely swim.

Friday Mom said...

I love the photo. I know I've learned what it looks like, but I don't pay attention when I'm hiking or doing other things outside. I'm like your husband and mom. I've never had a poison ivy rash. I've been told this can change, but it seems hard to believe at this point in my life.

Leslee said...

I'm allergic, my husband isn't. The jury is still out on if Peanut will fight it or not.

Sarah Sometimes said...

this is one of the few posts of your posts that make me not so sorry I live in the city....

Sarah Sometimes said...

uhhh... you can mentally delete one of those "posts".... something tells me it's time for bed.

zelda1 said...

jo(e), you are like my son. He can be in the area of the leaves and get it, or touch an animal that has touched it and get it. He has done the allergy shots and while he doesn't have such bad outbreaks, he still sufferes. My brother the same, but I can rub the leaves all over and never even turn red. Now, poison shumate eats me like battery acid. It's a leaves of five and believe me when I see its bright red leaves, I do run and hide.

Anonymous said...

Pilgrim: We're not allergic in our family, but, as Friday Mom says, that can change, so I spray the leaves and let them wither before I dig. The herbicide I use is called Burn-Out II and it's made of clove oil and vinegar--nothing persistent, nothing toxic to the rest of the environment, although it will kill back any plants it touches (ivy and anything perennial will grow back, though, if you don't follow up with the digging). I'm not an herbicide fan, but PI seems like a special case.

Mona Buonanotte said...

I saw the photo and my brain screamed, "Leaves of three, let them be!"

They are pretty, yeah, that's how they git ya....

HeyJules said...

I had an instantaneous knee-jerk reaction to your photo! Man, it's so pretty and yet so painful.

I found something a few years back that has changed my life - it comes in a bottle and its called "Tecnu." Drugstores carry it and you can use it on your skin if you think you might have been exposed OR after you break out to cut down on the severity and itching.

Poison ivy is bad - no doubt about it - but it still won't keep me out of the woods, either.

halloweenlover said...

I need to print this out to memorize what poison ivy looks like, because I don't think I've ever been exposed to it. Or if I have, I haven't broken out yet, but I'm terrified of it.

kathy a said...

we get poison oak here, same deal. my son and husband are constantly exposed, and sometimes the rest of us -- it even grows in our yard. we have a few bottles of tecnu around -- it does seem to help.