The poison ivy deception

“This isn’t poison ivy.”, said my friend’s young son confidently as he softly kicked his shoe and shin around in the low mass of leaves. The look on his face was intended to calm our fears. After all, he was kicking those leaves and nothing was happening. In his mind it was a pretty good test. He didn’t have enough experience with poison ivy to know he was wrong.

We had been walking the path around a small lake when I started to notice the 3-leaf pattern in much of the vegetation. I was pretty sure it was poison ivy, but I couldn’t see any of the characteristic white berries that generally come with it. I expressed my concerns to my friend and his son overheard me.

It wasn’t long before I found the confirming evidence. Several clusters of pale green berries were clearly visible in the leafy mass. I hope my friend bathed his kids when he got them home. Poison ivy looks so benign, but it can be the source of great misery.

My first experience with poison ivy came a few days after a fishing trip. Itchy “bites” started showing up on my shins. Over the course of several days, they showed up in increasing numbers, and red lines started to connect them. They were only on my shins, and as the lines developed, they actually looked like scratches. The itching and burning got worse, and I was baffled at the cause. The only thing I could think of was the fishing trip, several days previous, where I had waded through some bushes in shorts. But there wasn’t any poison ivy in Utah, was there?? Oh yes, there was.

Several weeks of misery passed and my legs started healing, aided by a steroid shot from the doctor. I finally went for a walk up the canyon, near the stream where I had been fishing. Now that I knew what to look for, I could see that poison ivy was everywhere. In dozens of fishing trips I hadn’t ever had a problem, but in previous trips I had generally stayed on well-traveled paths. This last time I had waded through the bushes in an effort to get access to a fishing hole that was otherwise impossible to reach.

Poison ivy is deceptive. It looks so ordinary, almost inviting. There are no thorns to serve as a warning. It does not sting if you touch it. It is common and plentiful, thriving in places people like to visit. It is often found on the edges of popular paths, inviting the ignorant to wander through it. Of course I see spiritual parallels in this.

I have heard the tales of numerous smokers who started their habit with innocently at 12 or 13 years old. They didn’t intend to find themselves, decades later, slaves to the expense and the smell of cigarettes, but that is what happened.

The kids in my school who became parents in high school, and some even in junior high, weren’t expecting to be parents so soon. They saw the fun they could have, but somehow didn’t see that misery could be the consequences of the same actions. What seemed fun was actually very serious business.

College kids gleefully tore open the envelopes of their first credit cards, their minds taking them into undiscovered paths of possibility and status. The paralyzing sting of debt was nowhere in sight, though it lingered for years after the pleasurable experiences are gone.

But, some people still insist on kicking at the danger and stating that it isn’t dangerous because they haven’t experienced the pain of its consequences. Like poison ivy, addictions and vices can be deceptive.

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