A sign that sum­mer is on the way

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake jamiedrake­out­doors@out­look.com

Even though the dreary skies last week and the tem­per­a­ture gauge said dif­fer­ently, I know sum­mer is swiftly ap­proach­ing South­ern Mary­land. Be­fore I ex­plain ex­actly how I know this, let me tell you a lit­tle back­ground story.

I’ve al­ways loved dogs. My par­ents kept a di­verse pas­sel of dogs on our farm, from reg­is­tered pure­breds to in­dis­putable mutts and I re­mem­ber them all fondly. My fa­ther, when he would visit me, would of­ten won­der where he went wrong rais­ing me. As an adult, I’ve only had cats for pets.

I tried to ex­plain to him that house­break­ing a dog while still chang­ing di­a­pers just doesn’t ap­peal to me. When the kids are older and we have more room, I’m sure a few dogs will find their way into our lives. For the time be­ing, though, we

are a two-cat house­hold.

Both of our cats are roughly the same age and both came from the shel­ter. They look ex­actly alike, black and white splotchy cats with sleek coats, a white sock on each paw, and golden eyes, but there’s one very im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion. Oreo has a black nose; Dou­blestuf a pink one. And you bet­ter be able to tell the dif­fer­ence be­cause their per­son­al­i­ties are night and day.

Dou­blestuf is a friendly cat. She’ll let the kids pick her up, likes snug­gles on the sofa, and is more than happy to sit in some­one’s lap for as long as they’ll tol­er­ate — and pet — her. But be­ware the cat with the black nose. Any­one who touches her risks en­coun­ter­ing

her claws or teeth (or both).

Last week they were both due for their yearly check-up and vac­cines. The ap­point­ment was quick and the cats were home and re­leased from their cages where­upon they both dis­ap­peared un­til morn­ing when it was time for break­fast.

As I sat in the gar­den in the af­ter­noon and watched the kids play­ing in the yard, the black-nosed cat came over and nuz­zled my hand. Signs of af­fec­tion from her are few and far be­tween, and I let her rub her ears and back on my hand for sev­eral min­utes un­til she saun­tered off. I thought maybe she was glad the or­deal with the vet was over and she was ex­press­ing some form of fe­line grat­i­tude for a warm house, canned cat food and a soft bed.

The next morn­ing, as I was get­ting dressed, my right arm and wrist started to itch. A blis­tery rash ap­peared and af­ter a few scratches it dawned on me that I must have got­ten into some poi­son ivy the day be­fore.

I know it’s al­most sum­mer be­cause that’s when, inevitably, poi­son ivy rashes pop up. It’s just a fact of life when you spend a lot of time out­side.

Grow­ing up in the coun­try, I’ve had lots of run-ins with this three-leafed ag­gres­sor. Back when I was a kid, hik­ing and horse­back rid­ing were more in­ter­est­ing than scan­ning the

woods for poi­son ivy and I didn’t pay much at­ten­tion to the plants brush­ing up against my arms and legs dur­ing these youth­ful ex­cur­sions.

With age comes wis­dom, though, and over the years I’ve re­al­ized there’s a lot of value in the say­ing dis­cre­tion is

the bet­ter part of valor, and have be­come quite an ex­pert at iden­ti­fy­ing poi­son ivy in all its forms. The herbal as­sailant is shifty, able to grow as a vine, shrub, or even cam­ou­flage it­self as a brown, dead-look­ing and hairy vine sidling in­nocu­ously up the side of a tree.

Once the oils in the leaves or vines come in con­tact with skin, a blis­tery rash can ap­pear a few

hours to a few days later. Ev­ery once in a while I’m lucky and re­al­ize my mis­take right away. Usu­ally a good wash with soap and water is enough to pre­vent the rash.

Nor­mally I don’t put any kind of chem­i­cal on my lawn or gar­den; we’re quite happy with clover for a lawn. It looks just as good as grass if it’s kept neatly trimmed, and the pol­li­na­tors ap­pre­ci­ate the

flow­ers when it grows a bit. But I draw the line at poi­son ivy and keep a spray bot­tle of Roundup in the garage just for com­bat­ting poi­son ivy.

A few times a year this scourge of a plant will rear its ugly head along the perime­ter of our yard, and just like in the com­mer­cials, we go head-to-head in a bat­tle where there can be only one win­ner.

As I was dab­bing on the calamine lo­tion, my mind re­traced my steps from the day be­fore and I tried to fathom where I could have pos­si­bly come in con­tact with poi­son ivy. I had gone for my daily walk, but didn’t stray off the path or walk in the fields near my house. My daugh­ter and I had spent a few hours pick­ing straw­ber­ries at a friend’s farm, but I could be fairly cer­tain there was no poi­son ivy lurk­ing in the neat rows of berry plants. And I’d done a bit of work in my own gar­den, but I didn’t pick it up there ei­ther.

Then I re­al­ized where I had touched the oil. It can get on a pet’s fur and then get trans­ferred to its owner’s skin. The blac­knosed cat didn’t have a sud­den change of heart. I know ex­actly what she was think­ing: “Pay­back.”

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