As I write this I’m waiting for a callback from the triage nurse. I’ve a wicked case of poison ivy that, after a week of cold compresses and slathering with ointment, continues to spread. I’ll spare you an actual photo, but last week one of my Grands wanted to know why I had ‘bubbles’ all over my arms. The bubbles have burst, but the rash still extends literally from my fingertips to my armpits on both arms.
Over the weekend the 5 year-old Grand saw my arms and asked, ‘Nana Kim! Did you touch leaves-of-three?!’ I kept waiting for him to smack his forehead and shake his head at his Nana’s obvious stupidity. I mean, if a 5 year-old knows well enough to leave those plants alone. But yes, I touched leaves-of-three – lots of them.
Last year I decided to let a portion of the yard ‘go wild’ – hoping the wildflowers and clover would make a comeback. Unfortunately those were smothered by the trumpet vine, wild blackberry canes, honeysuckle, maple and oak saplings, hundreds of shoots from an invasive species of tree, Virginia Creeper . . . and poison ivy.
The vines originate in our woods but crept under, through, and cascaded over our chain link fence. There’s really a fence there. The tendrils and runners ran well into the yard. It was time to get that area back under mow-able control. I knew the risk of exposure, but didn’t want to use a chemical that could kill everything and ruin the soil for years. So, a week ago Saturday I spent 8 hours lopping off tree branches and hacking, pulling, and clipping away at the tangled mess. At times I laughed because watching the leaves collapse along a runner I pulled reminded me of cartoons when a rabbit pilfers a row of veggies from underground, each carrot top disappearing in succession.
Sunday morning the rash appeared. It came despite a good scrubbing with special soap; despite doing all the ‘right’ things before going in. I wore long sleeves and long pants; wore disposable coveralls, tucking the pant legs into rubber boots; wore rubber gloves that came almost to my elbows. Yesterday after mass a friend suggested, “Next time you need to put a rubber band around your cuffs . . .” I had. I did everything right, yet the cuffs rolled enough, often enough, to expose my wrists enough. Every time I repositioned the gloves and re-snapped the bands into place, I knew the rash was inevitable. But I kept at it because it made more sense to get the job done in one concentrated effort, than to go into it numerous times.
I thought about those times when despite our best efforts and intentions, our best precautions, things still go wrong. And I thought about how often we push through a tangled mess, even knowing the risks, because we believe the outcome outweighs them.
Last week someone special posted an old photo of himself and his son’s Boy Scout troop, all muddy and smiling after emerging from a caving expedition. Rog wrote in detail about one specific area that was a tight squeeze – for him – and his determination to get through the narrow space. He counted how many times he had to suck in his belly, push, and twist to inch forward. My chest tightened as I read, bringing back memories of my own caving expedition years ago.
It wasn’t something I chose to do, but my youth ministry kids – mostly boys – thought it would be AWESOME!!!! These were ‘my boys’ and I’d never be able to forgive myself if something happened and I wasn’t there. I put aside my claustrophobia, the fear of cave collapse, and descended into the cavern with them. Once inside, it was so dark we couldn’t see the sides of the passages, and in that darkness space opened up. I never felt closed in, even in some tight spots. I don’t see myself doing that again, but I’m glad I had the experience, especially with this group of teens – two of whom were my sons. And it was awesome.
While I won’t describe the trek into the jungle of my back yard as awesome, it was exhilarating. I enjoyed the physical work, and watching the area open up and brighten as I cut back limbs and pulled up the lush carpet of vines made the effort worthwhile. I found patches of violets, trillium, and other flowers grateful for the sun again.
I have more clean-up to do, those trees in the fence are the next to go. The plan and image of a pollinator garden have me ready to begin. Still, aware of the risks because there are still leaves-of-three in spots, I’ve ordered special gardening sleeves. Itchy fingers crossed those will help.
Where would we be without hope?
Oh, Kim! I’m sorry to hear about your poison ivy bout! I hope it subsides soon!