Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Poison Ivy and me: a brief history of a long relationship

It's a toxic relationship, I know it. The problem is, in the long stretches while we are apart I forget. I forget the burn on my skin, so deep that it feels like it goes to the bone. I forget the restless sleep. I only remember the places I want to go, the deep canyon folds where there is hidden water and shade. In the forgetting time, it seems worth it.

 I've had poison ivy all over the country in one form or another. In Florida there were entire trees (poisonwood) dripping with oils. There were also dense mats of ivy that we had to push through in our quest to survey burn units. In California we were digging fireline in the Sierras by headlamp, throwing what looked like dead sticks off our line. Unfortunately, they weren't dead sticks. Some of the crew swallowed the smoke and had to be carted off to the hospital. When we were cutting dead trees, festooned with ivy, Juls and I coated our skin with slimy yellow liquid that was supposed to help. It never really did.

 I enjoyed seven years of ivy free existence in Alaska, long enough to think that maybe I was over it, that ivy and I could carry on an amicable truce. In all my climbs in and out of the canyon, it seems to stay below the 2500 foot mark, and so that seemed contained. There was plenty of country for us both. Or so it seemed. There's a fine window of time in the canyon when it is possible to walk, not swim through the ivy crowding the ancient trails. In the spring the ivy is at its juiciest and I believe most volatile. I seem to attract its touch without even trying. Perhaps even the air movement as I pass by causes it to activate.

 I've heard of all sorts of cures. Drink the milk of goats that have eaten poison ivy. Roll in it and you will become immune. Coat yourself with Technu. Just like getting over a broken heart, the only thing that really works with P.I. is time. Time with itching that makes you want to scream. Plastering your body with a baking soda paste. Vowing to never ever go into the canyon again, or to stay high above the river.

 But of course I can't stay away. Just like all the other times, the lure of the canyon will bring me back. The water trickles down the wrinkled folds and old growth ivy grows head high. I won't try to push through this. I know my limits, in relationships and with ivy. But I will tiptoe through the most dangerous places of all, the ones where just a few plants encourages me to keep going. I'll turn back when it gets really bad, I tell myself. Sometimes I do.


  1. I know you will just love poison oak free JMT. You may never want to leave!

  2. So which is worse: poison ivy or poison oak? I've only gotten poison oak.

    I hope you find relief soon!

  3. Ouch..makes me itch just reading...hope it is a milder case this time

  4. Mary, here is my remedy for the itching, it works for me. Depending on the area involved, you can either use the faucet or get into the shower. Start out with the water temperature warm directed onto to the affected area. Slowly turn the temperature warmer and warmer until you feel a "rush" in the affected area. Not too hot as it would be scolding. For me, the itching goes completely away for about 8 hours or so. John McGilvra

  5. Oh didn't.....not again? really?
    I see the old stalks along the river near my camp, I see the pale yellow berries and warn my uninitiated coworkers. Few things incite my caution to the extent that poison ivy does. I'll gladly take the 5 ticks I walked back to camp with yesterday over the smallest spot of poison ivy.
    I hope you are over it soon!

  6. Thanks for all the support. John I will definitely try that. It sounds easier than the goat thing. Mariah, I am surprised you have only stalks. It's pretty robust at cow creek. I think I am just the most susceptible person in the world.

  7. Oh, I'm itching, and we don't even have PI up here. But life is short, eh? What's a little itch (or even a lot) in the name of beauty and adventure.
    If it makes you feel better I had over 60 black fly bites last summer and itched until I cried, big baby that I am. What helped was my son's zit cream, don't know why. Guess it helped dry up the bites.
    P.S. Don't you think they'd have a vaccine for PI by now?
    P.S.S. Glad to have found your blog again!!

  8. Years ago, the tree trimming crew in Royal Oak Michigan (which included LLE) had to take a vaccine for PI. Wonder if later it was found not to work? Haven't heard anything about such a preventative in years.


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