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.