Springtime

plant.JPGAh, springtime. I love watching the new, lush green vegetation come out…those wildflowers blooming forth from a winter’s slumber…frisky squirrels and birds preparing for the mating season…and then there’s the lawn. I hate yard work, and more specifically, mowing lawns. I did enough of that in my youth to feel like I should have a lifetime exemption from that dreaded chore. It’s not that I don’t like the process, its that the process doesn’t like me or more precisely, my allergies.

We have an underground sprinkler system for our grassed yard, and that’s a good thing except it makes the grass grow really fast. And the owner before us took great care to rip out the wild-as-weeds St. Augustine grass and install a proper subsoil system topped with Zoysia grass, the same stuff they put on golf courses, and that’s another good thing except it’s incredibly thick grass. But this dang fancy grass grows faster than any grass I’ve seen, which is a bad thing! But don’t fear, we have a standing deal with a mowing-loving neighbor who takes care of our yard in exchange for cases of exotic beer. A fair trade in my mind, and he’s yet to complain.

fungus.JPGWhat I do, or rather, did enjoy was working the rough areas of the yard, cleaning out old undergrowth and making our lot looked like lived-in wilderness. We only have grass along the front curb, while the rest of the lot is forest floor. But even natural forest floor surrounding a human residence requires maintenance to a degree. If I’m not keeping the 3′ barrier around the house cleaned and poisoned to keep the insects out of the house, I’m sweeping pine needles off the roof or gathering up storm-felled branches from the many tall pine trees that grace our lot.

Those of you who know me understand what I’m referring to when I mention “did” enjoy in the preceding paragraph, since I’m now banned from doing any work whatsoever in our yard. Two summers ago I removed our old, rotting wood deck at the side of the house. Not a huge chore, but demanded the usual guy-induced mess that spanned over several weekends, and took up twice the amount of yard to stage the task of de-nailing and recycling the old decking. What I wasn’t prepared for was how I would spend the next two months recuperating from a world-class case of contact dermatitis, courtesy of my new friend, that lovely green ivy shown in the photo at the right. Yes, mom, that’s what poison ivy looks like, the innocent plant that put me through hell that summer!

pivy.JPGI’ve never reacted to p.i. before, but in doing research about the plant I learned that most of what people think about poison ivy is not true. For starters, no one is naturally immune to the reaction-causing oils of this lovely green ivy, which yields very pretty purple berries in the spring. You can go for years and years and never have a reaction then BAM, one time and you’re singing the calamine lotion blues. In fact, our first summer here I cleaned out the side yard and pulled up bags of this stuff from around the deck with nary a blister.

I wish my exposure that fateful summer could have been treated with a simple dose of calamine lotion. Unfortunately, I went well beyond that into the land of superman steroids that turned me into a mood-swinging joy to be around. Picture a bad case of PMS and no chocolate in the house. Everyone wanted to move temporarily to a motel until I got better. But thanks to some serious bribes to keep people around to help, several rounds of super steroids, and many weeks of bath wraps with some prescription steroid cream that comes in an industrial-sized tub, I finally emerged healed from the experience. I missed a lot of work, was really uncomfortable, and looked like a reject from a sci-fi makeup convention for weeks. And no, I didn’t manage any pictures of my legs, which fortunately took the brunt of the attack, sparing my face. Small consolation, but at the time I was very grateful for that small favor.

So as you might suspect, this is why I use the past tense, “did” enjoy, to describe the yard work that I’m permanently banned for life from, and for obvious good reason. The photo of the poison ivy was taken this weekend at the same time I snapped the other shots. And yes, I was careful where I stepped as I snapped digital pictures. I now automatically scan the yard as I walk around and steer clear of the dreaded ivy. Since the oils is what we humans are reactive to, stepping on or brushing the leaves will release the oil onto your shoe, jeans, whatever, and then by touch can be transferred to your skin. But the oil is only organically active as a poison certain times of the year. Also, if you know you’ve been exposed you can use a special cleaner to get rid of the oil before it gets into your system, if you do so within an hour of contact. And contrary to what some people think, once contracted, it is not contagious to anyone else.

The pinnacle of this whole experience was when I finally went to see a dermatologist after chasing down some natural remedies which naturally only made things much worse. You know you’ve got something really special when your doctor comments that it’s the worst case of poison ivy she’d ever seen. Terrific, one for the record books. Was that my fifteen minutes of fame? I sure hope not.

4 Responses

  1. Okay, I don’t want to look like Dr. Know-it-all here, but I can’t help but add a small warning/caveat. Depending on where in the world folks are reading this, there are different varieties of poison ivy (ours here in the eastern US, for instance, has white berries in the fall but otherwise looks the same, leaf-wise). Here in the east, poison ivy oils is toxic *year ’round*. I’ve known folks who have cut down ivy-draped trees in the wintertime thinking that *burning* the dormant vines is a good way to get rid of them, but this simply releases toxic *vapor* into the air. Think poison ivy of the *lungs*, which results in a hospital visit…

    Other than that paranoid botanic caveat, though, a very chuckle-inducing post. I loved the line about the sci-fi makeup convention… 😉

  2. Well said, Dr. Lori. I may be mistaken on the “not always poison” thing…that came from my dermatologist, but I would tend to think if the leaf was out, it was poisonous, so you are probably correct for our variety as well. We also have some lovely poison sumac and poison oak around here to complement the joy of poison ivy. Makes for a pretty nasty brew! And yea, forgot to mention the burning of the leaves releases a poisonous smoke…but burning’s banned here so not something we think about around these here parts.

  3. Ouch! I hope you are luckier this year. Lucky for me, my massively hirsute legs are matted in such a way that the leaves don’t get their oils on me, and I have walked through the stuff with the air of a god (lol).
    But skeeters make me get really sick.
    I guess it’s a trade off. 🙂

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