Monday, April 25, 2016

Dangers Unseen

All of life is the exercise of risk. ~William Sloane Coffin

Half of my backyard is a part of a larger woods. When we first moved here, our wooded area was fairly cleared and I envisioned starting with a small shade garden with ferns, hardy cyclamen, hostas, dead nettle, purple shamrocks, lily of the valley, miniature bleeding hearts, and vinca so that is what I planted. I started with a simple island of three trees. I place stones to make a border all around it. Along one side I cleared a path with stones edging the woods on the other side. The path led to the back where I had leveled a spot for a bench. I also planted English ivy in the woods hoping it would carpet the wooded areas. I envisioned sitting on the bench barely able to see our my house let alone the rest of the neighborhood and communing with my Lord, petting a sleepy cat, and reading books with my young daughter in cool of the shade on hot summer days.

It was all going to be beautiful and serene...then came in reality. Mosquitoes made sitting back there on the bench quite a miserable experience except perhaps on the breeziest of days. Also, smack in the middle between the woods' edge that wrapped around my backyard where it had been flat began to sink. When our house was built, it is a common practice for builders to bury the wood they cleared, which in time rots away and creates a sink hole. Builders are no longer allowed to do this for obvious reasons, thankfully.

Not knowing how big the sink hole was going to become, I mostly left the woods alone. Some of my plants survived and some did not. Vinca jumped the rock border of the island and the English ivy took off towards the yard instead of filling the woods. Last spring I removed all the plants in the back shade garden and brought them to the front shade garden where they can be enjoyed and look lovely. I did this because another undesirable had taken residence in my woods: poison ivy.

I hate to use chemicals so the first time I saw some poison ivy, I pulled it out. Crazy as it may sound, you have to understand that I never had a reaction to poison ivy that was more than a very slight rash after lots of exposure. My aunt's horses used to eat it and I remember even locking my bike up on a tree that had it when I was camping thinking that no one would bother with my bike because of it. It has been that way with most of my family, including my maternal grandmother until one time and then she had a very bad reaction and nearly died. So, my aunt warned me to be careful anyway, because I could have a reaction later on in life...and I did. It was not until I moved to Georgia and was pulling out poison ivy that I had a reaction.

After that I was more careful, but for the last six summers I have suffered with poison ivy rashes—from a cat!

I get it from both the Mitten Kittens actually, but it is Little Miss Midnight that gives it to me the most. How do I know? Well, Midnight likes being held and when I pick her up, she immediately perches her head over my left shoulder. I am recovering from a poison ivy rash that covered my throat up to my jaw on the left side and a little rather itchy blister in the middle of my right palm with a smaller one on the side of one finger also on the right hand that holds her while she happily views the world as I walk with her. It would really be so nice if there was some warning that she has this invisible urushiol oil on her fur before I touch her. Of course, Midnight is innocently unaware that when she hunts in the woods that she ends up with urushiol oil on her fur. It does not a thing to her, even when she licks it off.

Sharii does not long tolerate being held, but he loves to wrap himself around legs purring so loudly that it sounds painful. I may have gotten mere touches of the volatile oil from him. My daughter thought they were bug bites but there were not many biting bugs out when I got them so I am thinking that they were not.

I have avoided poison ivy completely and burned it out when I see creeping out of the woods, but I just have not been diligent with killing it. Actually, since I alone was doing it, I kind of gave up. However, you cannot turn your back on poison ivy and wish it away. It has entrenched itself and, camouflaged by English ivy, it climbed trees unfettered. Sad really, because it is quite beautiful particularly in autumn and its hairy vines on the trees add interest in the winter.

Last year, I removed all the plants I wanted to keep from the backyard to wage a war on the poison ivy, even if it meant I would chemically burn out every plant in the woods area! I started by spraying every leaf of poison ivy I could see on the edge of the woods and when they died back I moved in deeper. The problem was another vine was draped from tree to tree so that making my way back carefully was not easy, but this spring before the poison ivy leaves were out, my husband and I cut down what we now know were native muscadine vines. My husband loves muscadine wine and preserves, but since I have not seen any grapes, I am assuming we only have a male vine.

Now I am able to get through our little woods to spray down all the ivy and let me tell you that it is far worse than I thought, but it is dying down. I go out about once a week looking for healthy leaves to spray. Yeah, I am that determined!

However, clearing my yard of the stuff will not cure my problem. Sharii has claimed our property as his territory and sticks around the house, but even so our cats do not stay in the boundaries of your yard, particularly Midnight. She is the smallest cat I have ever had, half the size and weight of Sharii, who tends to get rough. He will be wrapping himself around your legs for a few minutes before he decides it is time to grab and bite them. Although I see them sleep near each other in the afternoon and tag team a mouse hunt, Midnight generally does not like Sharii's rough ways and usually takes off for neighboring areas for most of the day, unless I am outside working so I can protect her.

That being said, Midnight often goes toward the neighbor's yard and to the corner lot they own that was never cleared. The woods there is a great place to hide and hunt...and it is drenched in poison ivy! There is no escaping the cats bringing it to me. Every time I spend a few minutes with them, I have to carefully change my clothes and wash off with Fels Naptha soap. Not fun!

After this bout with the poison ivy, I am just as determined to desensitize to it as I am to burn it out of my yard. I found a homeopathic remedy that is a very low potency, 4x, that I will be taking every day until the poison ivy dies. It is said that Indians did not get poison ivy because they ate it. Well, I am not that brave, but I have had wonderful results with homeopathics so this is worth a try. Besides, how can I resist cuddling with little Midnight!

My Lord, may this remedy work so that I can stop trying to avoid my cats.