A sign that summer is on the way
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.”