All summer long the poison ivy mocks me. It grows up the trunks of two of our trees out back. It's huge! The leaaves are the size of a basset hound's ear. It waves at me as I walk around the neighborhood. At the park it watches me from the trees and among the weeds as I stroll along the pathways by the lake. I can hear it giggling while trying to entice me to touch it by intertwining itself with other benign plants. In my yard I try to keep it at bay with weed killer. Laughing at me it slurps the tasy treat and begs for more. As I trim the forsythia growing by the patio, it licks at my ankles until I notice then chortles as I run into the house to wash and put on socks in July. Knowing that I will become distracted by the heat and one day show up once again in sandals to do some yard work in its proximity it waits. I know that it feels safe, as it is ubiquitous and I cannot rid my yard of the nuisance. It alwyas threatens me, knowing that if it can just sneak into my grasp I will be itching for weeks. I remember all too well the last time it was able to get past my defenses by mixing in with old leaves in the spring and finding the one spot on my arm not covered by coat or gloves. In moments of unreasonable paranoia just before falling asleep at night, I swear that I can hear it rustling, growing closer to the house wanting to knock on the window by my bed. It sighs in contentment as it hears time after time that my attempts to hire someone to eradicate it have failed. In spite of its tenacity I will not give up.
When I was about 9 years old my slightly older cousin Randy, the daredevil, ate a leaf off a poison ivy plant in answer to a challenge from his big brother Keith. I thought that he would get poison ivy inside of him, on his tongue, growing out his ears, itching inside his stomach. But nothing happened to him. No itching, no leaves growing, he was still just Randy my daredevil cousin. My sister in law is so allergic to it that if she is exposed to it she will need a prescription to treat the rash. Me, I just get the itchy, weepy rash that lasts for a couple of weeks at least. It's inconvenient and uncomfortable, keeping me up at night in spite of antihistimine and Calamine lotion.
We have an odd relationship, the poison ivy and I. I don't want it in my yard, yet I see the beauty of it. In the Autumn it turns a beautiful golden color. Funny, I thought it was only reddish or green shiny leaves, growing gracefully up the trunks of trees. The tiny roots on the vines holding it tight to the trunks look like fuzz, tempting me to touch them to see if they are as soft as they look. I know that if I gave in to my curiosity about the texture my skin would be in trouble.
In the Autumn, it gives up its aggressive growing and is content to rest there on the trees and the ground. Covered with a blanket of fallen leaves, it will rest peacefully through the winter until the warmth of spring awakens it to resume its trek towards the sun. Are the trees in cohoots with the poison ivy, allowing it to grow up the trunks, and agreeing to protect it with a blanket of leaves for the winter? In exchange for what? What is the ivy doing to help the trees? Perhaps it is more like a bully, "let me grow here or else"! Could it be that the tree is indifferent, "grow where you like, just don't bother me"? It's a mystery to me, one which I ponder occasionally over a cup of coffee enjoyed here on the patio, where my mind is free to wander where it will for a few moments as I take a break from the activities and cares of the day.
What is that rustling noise behind me?