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Hazards of Spring Gardening

By Nick Thomas


You have to wonder what God was thinking when He created poison ivy. Was He having a rough day, or was He just furious with Adam and Eve? 

“I’ll teach those darn kids to rummage through my garden in their birthday suites and steal my fruit,” said God, sprinkling the area with ivy and a liberal dose of Miracle-Gro.

Lucky for Adam the first thing he grabbed to cover his embarrassment was a fig leaf, rather than a bunch of poison ivy.

Whatever the reason for its creation, poison ivy has few redeeming qualities. It is little more than Kudzu with an attitude. (If you’re a Kudzu-weary Southerner, you’ll be familiar with this relentlessly annoying, invasive species; if not, think of it as a Kardashian, with leaves).

And just like reruns of abysmal reality TV shows, poison ivy emerges in the spring to stalk millions of Americans innocently exercising their God-given right for the pursuit of outdoor happiness. Such activities might include hikes through the wilderness, family camping trips, or simply relaxing in the garden doing yard work. 

While most people will take steps to avoid poison ivy, there are some who just seem to ignore the power of the wicked weed’s corrosive juices. Take our neighbor Larry, for instance (name changed to protect his stupidity).

He’s just awoken from his winter nap and, yielding to his wife’s growing threats, will soon grudgingly venture into the yard to perform his spring rituals. These include buffing the garden gnome, fruitlessly searching for tools he broke or lost last season, and attempting to start his lawnmower (which he hasn’t done successfully since 1987). 

Failing to resuscitate his equipment amidst much wailing and gnashing of teeth, Larry will then begin tearing into his forest of weeds by hand – gloveless and shirtless, with pasty white legs protruding from khaki shorts like flabby columns of alabaster. 

Sporting a bare body surface area approaching that of a humpback whale, he inevitably succumbs to exposure from poisonous plants, the sun, and other backyard dangers. 

Along these lines, I’ve cautioned him many times about contact with poison ivy, and even explained the science behind its action. But Larry rarely listens, preferring to believe that “this year” he’ll be immune to the blistering bouts of discomfort.

One year, for instance, while he was patching weedwacker wounds on his legs, he barely looked up when I explained that poison ivy releases a corrosive oily substance called urushiol (sensuously pronounced oo-roo-shee-ohl) which is rapidly absorbed by the skin. 

Another time, when I informed Larry that he only had 5 minutes after exposure to wash the urushiol from his skin before it permanently bonded to the proteins in his bleached flesh, he never even glanced at me – too busy plucking blackberry thorns from his pelvis, as I recall.

Nor was he especially interested when I described the incredible potency of urushiol, and that most people will develop a rash if exposed to a mere 50 micrograms. That’s way smaller than the average tick I’ve witnessed Larry dig out of his eardrum during supper, after a day’s gardening. 

Having chosen to ignore my counsel over the years, I’ve now abandoned any attempt to advise Larry of gardening hazards, leaving him to wallow in his orchard of itching each spring. 

Clearly, some men are determined to tempt fate in gardens where evil lurks. Mind you, that’s where any similarity between Larry and Adam ends. 
According to the Book of Genesis, Adam lived for 930 years and, you know, fathered the entire planet. Larry just dreams about moving to an apartment. 


© 2013 Nick Thomas


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Nick's features and columns have appeared in more than 300 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and he is the author of “Raised by the Stars: Interviews with 29 Children of Hollywood Actors” published by McFarland. He can be reached at his blog: .

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