So yesterday I went out in the yard with my new pruning shears slung across my hips like a gunbelt, swaggered up to an overgrown thicket and said “There’s a new sheriff in town…”
I discovered that the plant I had previously labelled as Generic Bindweed is, in fact, Japanese wisteria. I was fooled because it hadn’t bloomed yet, but then, as I was ripping down a tangle that had bowed one of the ten thousand dogwoods in the yard double, I saw a telltale purple plume.
It’s a beautiful flower. I confess, the sight of a great purple hive on the side of the road in springtime fills me with a certain pleasure…as long as it’s on someone else’s tree. But it is Eating My Trees. So it had to die.
I spent a good hour or so while waiting for the cable guy to come out just massacring wisteria. Some of the trees sprang back immediately, some remained bowed double, a few are permanently corkscrewed, and two saplings were beyond saving and joined the wisteria on the brushpile.
I felt good. I felt that I had Accomplished Something.
I scratched idily at a bug bite.
Then another bug bite.
Hmm, lot of bugs.
Oddly, that looked more like hives. And that’s some kind of weeping blister there.
I wonder if wisteria is a skin irritant? Bereft of Google, I did what everyone does in these moments–I called my mother.
I got my stepfather instead, who listened to my epic tale of itchy woe and said “Sounds like poison ivy.” A few moments later, Mom confirmed. Wisteria isn’t a known skin irritant, but if I was standing in an ivy thicket hauling down dried vines, and now have a case of itchy rash with tiny blisters, I have achieved my first ever case of Poison Ivy.
Let me explain. I am from the Pacific Northwest, a sane and sensible land where the poisonous snakes come with warning rattles and coyotes occasionally eat poodles in the suburbs* and we have poison OAK. Which is also a small, indistinguished plant, but it lives at about knee height. We still get huge cases of it, mind you, but it never falls on you out of the sky like a vegetative divebomber. (In my defense, the poison ivy hasn’t leafed up yet, so it was just one more bastard vine.)
There’s a rhyme that everyone quotes at you sanctimoniously when they learn you’re itching like a fiend, and that is “Leaves of three, let it be.” This is lovely. Have you ever looked at a forest? There’s a lotta crap in there. Most of it is green and leafy. Possibly other people are carefully examining each step to locate the tri-lobed miscreant, but I am a tromper. I wallow through the woods like a bull elk. I love nature, I respect nature, but I am not exactly light on my feet. I am not an elf to go tripping daintily through the poison oak without stirring a leaf. (I bet elves don’t even GET poison oak.)
James, as far from elfdom as one can get, is currently immune to poison oak and poison ivy, although fully aware that At Any Moment this immunity could lapse and he could welt up, which meant that he treated me like a plague victim and hugged me cautiously, at arm’s length, and then changed his shirt.
Meanwhile, I’m itchy. It’s not a huge case, but one arm is dotted with small rashy bits, and I am paying for scratching an ill-considered and uncouth itch with a patch under one boob. I am dumping something called “Calagel” on my welts, which stinks of sulfer, but works a treat.
The problem is that when you’ve got poison ivy/oak/whatever, any itch on your entire body becomes immediately, murderously suspect. Do I dare scratch my nose? Is that the itch of an unshaven leg, or the itch of an impending horror? Is that where the cat rubbed against me, or will my flesh erupt into weeping blisters if I look at it funny?
Naturally, one might think I will now make James do all the yard work. One would be wrong. I will wear gloves and stop my immediate crusade against ivy, but that’s as far as I go. Somebody has to teach that wisteria who’s boss…
*My father burns a candle to the coyote gods nightly for this, I’m sure.