May 08, 2006
Lovely leaves of three
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.
Posted by jo(e)