Mourning Cloak

moon phase Week of 07/25/2004 Fruitful days for planting

All I wanted to do was cross the fence that borders the trout stream. I found what looked like a good place to cross, because the fence was a little loose and I could just duck through the barbed wire. As I neared the fence line, a voice from behind me said, "Be careful. That's poison ivy you're walking into."

Mourning Cloak

The voice was that of my friend's dad, who was going to show us how to wet a line in the trout stream. That was nearly 50 years ago, when this young fisherman didn't have a clue what poison ivy looked like, or what could happen if I came in contact with it.

My first lesson on how to catch a trout taught me much more than I expected it would. Learning what poison ivy looked like and how to avoid it was a valuable lesson that has remained with me for life. I'm happy to say that I've never had a single blister from this dreaded plant. No doubt I have been lucky, and have some tolerance to it as well as awareness to avoid it.

Yesterday, on my morning walk through a low meadow, I spotted a couple of butterflies in a fencerow up the hill. I was curious to know what kind they were, of course, so I walked up for a closer look. One of the 4" large butterflies was clinging to the weathered remains of an old wooden fence post. Its dusty gray wings were folded above its back. I knew then that the butterfly was a Mourning cloak. Lucky for me, there was another one perched on the top of some Brown-eyed Susans a couple of feet away. He slowly fanned his wings, giving me a good look. The upper and lower sides of the Mourning cloak's wings are a contrast in color, the underside being a nondescript gray, while the upper sides are shiny jet black bordered with yellow stripes and blue spots.

I was glad that I went out of my way to see them, until I noticed I was standing with bare legs in a small patch of poison ivy. I froze, then slowly backed away, being careful where I stepped. I got away without any harm, but knew I should have remembered that old lesson from years ago.

It's always a good idea to watch where you step. You might not know until the last moment what you are stepping on, or into. In a pasture, a careless step may mean having to clean something undesirable off your shoe. Hiding in the tall grass near the shed may be a board with a rusty nail in it. I'm sorry to say I've found quite a few of these in my life.

There's always something to look out for while taking a walk down nature's trail. A small garden spider has stretched its web across the path along the creek. I realize how much work it was for her to build this ingenious insect trap, so I simply step around it. In doing so, however, I brush my arm against the leaves of some stinging nettles. I quickly pull my arm away, but it's too late, and I feel a burning sting. Resisting the urge to scratch this spot, I look around for some jewel weed (touch-me-not), and spot some of their green leaves and yellow flowers over near the creek. I crush some of the juicy stem and leaves in my hands and rub it over my arms. It feels cool, and most of the itching fades away.

These days, no matter where I'm walking, the main thing to watch out for is wild poison parsnip. Brushing against this plant with bare skin will almost certainly cause some nasty blisters. Sunshine activates the poisonous agents in these exotic plants, and causing a painful reaction. I still have scars on my legs from the burns I got a year ago.

It really pays to watch where you're stepping when there is poison parsnip around. The plant in large patches along roadsides and ditches. Rising above most grasses, the bright yellow tips of the parsnip may appear to blanket an area. It's not always what's underfoot that you have to watch out for, but what any part of your body might come in contact with.

Long ago, I learned the consequences of walking through a patch of blackberries. Their sharp thorns are hard to forget. Prickly ash also gives you a painful reminder not to touch. When it comes to poison ivy, I look for viney plant stems with three leaves. Another identifying sign is stems of small, whitish round berries. While it doesn't have much affect on me, for some people, just seeing this aggressive plant makes them break out with blistering sores. For them it is imperative to watch where they step.

Once you've learned what may be harmful, you can usually trust your instinct to lead the way. If you are not careful, however, you may find an uncomfortable reminder of where not to step.

All art ©2013 Organic Valley

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