One weekend a few years ago, a friend needed some brush cut behind his house and I had a gas-powered weedwacker that needed exercise. I three-bladed through two-inch vines like a scythe through a hay field, working up a sweat scattering poison ivy chips all over that part of York County.
The only thing between me and a cloud of irritating ivy vines was a pair of old overalls and boots – but no shirt, the importance of which became apparent over the next few weeks.
I was immune to the stuff, I believed. For a long time, I didn’t even know what it looked like, though occasionally I would be out with someone who would panic about the shiny “leaves of three.”
My scourge as a youngster were blood suckers, also called leeches, that inhabited the muddy weed beds along the shore of the lake where I was raised. Before I learned to swim, and thereby move out of range of the pesky critters, I served as their primary food supply. Hundreds of them would come undulating toward my juvenile warm-blood factory. On the other hand, the younger me could roll unprotected, and unscathed, through beds of poison ivy. Funny how one thing bothers, and another doesn’t.
Mom had the cure. Fresh water leeches do not prosper in salt water and when there were only one or a couple, she would pour a bit on and pretty quick they’d let go. One time, it was more than one or two, and she sat me in a Number Three washtub filled with a solution of water and Epsom salts. Situation solved.
Nearly 40 years later, winters had become warmer and poison ivy had, it turned out, become more potent. By the time I was home from my friend’s back acre, I itched in a few places. By next morning, I had a problem. Within a few days, I was a mass of ooze. I wore long-sleeved shirts in 80-degree weather to avoid frightening my co-workers. I’ll omit the nightmarish details. Suffice it wasn’t pretty. The more I said it would go away, the more it didn’t.
Finally, I went to a doctor, who prescribed some massive steroids.
The drugs worked their magic. In recent years, I have gone several times where there was no way to avoid the stuff, but an early dose of those drugs made the effects go away.
I have learned about poison ivy that the stronger stuff has been moving north from Georgia and Florida. Where I was raised, the really strong stuff would be killed off in winter. Alas, winter also has moved north, taking with it the California snow pack, New England lobster catch and Kudzu.
While the temperature feels to humans a bit cold, it is downright balmy to the plants and bugs that once died off in December and January. Even deer ticks, I’m told, skinny dip in winter rainwater, waiting to grab onto unsuspecting hikers and hunters. And it’s no longer necessary to travel south to find Kudzu
I stopped beside the road to shoot a couple pictures of the billboards and Kudzu started growing over my car. Fortunately, I noticed what was happening, just in the nick of time, I dove in through the window, ripped the tentacles from the steering wheel, and raced off. I later was told Kudzu is what encouraged Dale Earnhardt to drive so fast.
Prednizone, it turns out, makes me more or less immune to the worst effects of poison ivy. I’m not so sure there is a similar cure for the planet’s growing blanket of Kudzu.
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