One of the great things about a visit to the Bahamas this time of year is the welcome contrast in colors. In the northern U.S., except for Christmas lights and decorations, it’s drab and dreary, a study in shades of gray from the sky to the ground. Here around Freeport, however, the tropical plants are blooming in an explosion of colors, all of which are cast in sharp relief by the bright sunshine. The effect is stunning.
I used to weed our beds with joyful, reckless abandon, pulling out the offending plants by the handful. Then, about 10 years ago, during one of the high summer months, I got a bad poison ivy rash for the first time, and my gardening life changed forever.
My hands touched the poison ivy as I was kneeling and weeding the beds on the side of the house, seating heavily as I worked in the summer sun. This turned out to be most unfortunate for me. When I mopped my sodden brow the diabolical irritants on my hands were able to get into the open pores on my face and were splashed onto my arms and chest and legs. By that evening, it was clear that I was in trouble, and by the next morning my rash — technically a case of contact dermititis — was comically bad. My face was bright red and so swollen that my eyes were slits. I also was dealing with multiple patches of misshapen red bumps on every limb that cried out for a vigorous itching. When I went to a dermatologist and took off the sunglasses I was wearing to cover my alien-looking face, the he burst into laughter and said it was the worst case of poison ivy he’d ever seen. The boys found my appearance equally amusing.
Eventually the patches went away, after days of trying to avoid the overwhelming impulse to scratch like a dog with fleas, but ever since I have been especially sensitive to any poison ivy exposure. Apparently this is common. So now, when I weed, I keep my eye out for anything that looks suspicious and treat it with utmost care. On the Poison Ivy Patrol, our motto is “Leaves of three, let it be.”