Never trust a plant

Our neighbor Ernesto was cruising along the drive in typical dust-raising speed when he spotted me and hit the breaks, spitting gravel. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but he pointed to our wood pile.

My wood pile. I take some perverse pride in it since I salvaged, hauled and stacked the logs myself.

It is a lovely wood pile, I thought as I walked toward him…stacked by yours truly….maybe he wants some of it…

“Do you need some wood?” I asked. There’s not a lot, but I’m feeling generous….

“No!” He looked kind of horrified, like I’d just offered him nuclear waste.

“No, I just wanted to tell you that the wood’s covered in poison ivy. If you burn it, the poison ivy will get in your lungs. You’ll end up in the hospital.”

I peered at the tendrils of gnarled vines wrapped around the logs. How did he know it was poison ivy? How could he be so sure?

Let me back up a few decades here.

Long ago me ‘n Poison Ivy struck an agreement. It would leave me alone and I wouldn’t brag about my ivy-resistant powers. And for much of life, I’ve cavorted in poison ivy. I played hide and seek in its leafy patches and bedded down in it at sleep-away camp. Wove garland crowns out of poison ivy and danced in the moonlight….

There was always a trade off of course. From birth, mosquitoes have devoured me to the bone. Still, that old adage “leaves of 3, let it be” was meaningless. Poison ivy was my friend.

Til I turned the ripe old age of 30, and nature and age bestowed some memorable gifts: my first wrinkles around my eyes, my first gray hairs… and poison ivy re-neged on our deal.

“That’s poison ivy!” Martin practically crowed as I manically scratched the bubbly red patch on my arm.

“Impossible! I must’ve been attacked by a mosquito colony. I don’t get poison ivy.”

“Well, you do now.”

And wouldn’t you know it, my powers failed right when we moved to the farm. Where poison ivy grows thick and plentiful by the bushel. Around here you could harvest it, string it together, and it would encircle the earth twice.

But without those Calamine lessons of childhood, I am powerless at identifying the plant. Much to Martin’s dismay. “How can you not know poison ivy?” he asks incredulously. You’d think I’d just announced that my hobbies are flag burning and painting swastikas.

“I dunno. Everything’s leafy and green around here! I don’t understand how you see it so easily!”

Martin tests me constantly. “What that? What’s that?” I lob out random plant names.

“Honeysuckle? pachysandra? boxelder?”

“No! Leaves of three…how many times do I tell you this?” He gets pissed about this. “Comeon, you’ve got kids now!”

Like that denotes some kind of responsibility.

But just about the time that Martin’s going blow his stack, I feign sudden understanding. Not because I recognize the plant, but because Martin has a tell: “what’s that?” When I hear that, I know that that’s “it.”

“Oh, that’s poison ivy,” I say knowingly. He looks momentarily relieved. When he’s gone, I go back to plunging through leaves of three, four and five to pick berries. I hope my secret powers return soon.

And truthfully, no one’s perfect. Even the great Poison Ivy Hunter stumbles. Last year while I was at a softball game, Martin called frantically because Hadley the Barbarian had eaten poison ivy.

Fortunately, babies are not susceptible or don’t develop a reaction until they’re older. And for now, I’m gambling that the kids will be like me — immune. They don’t have a choice. I can’t identify the damn stuff anyway.

my former BFF, now frenemy