BLUEFIELD — What do you get when you cross poison ivy with a school project? An A-plus rash and a trip to the doctor’s office. In my eagerness to collect every leaf in the yard, I included Toxicodendron Radicans, otherwise known as an poison ivy leaf. Every leaf had to pressed in a large book, preferably the encyclopedia. I stacked other volumes on top to make sure my leaves were flat as paper. The results were leaves that were crisp, fragile to the touch. I took a piece of plain, white paper and glued the leaf. Then I wrote both the common name and scientific name. My dad covered the sheet with contact paper and punched three holes on side. It looked like this: oak, maple, dogwood, poison ivy, willow, birch and so on. The poison ivy stuck out like a bad rash, pun intended. I itched and scratched for days in the third grade. I gave the poison ivy to mom as well. And together, we went to the doctor’s office when the pink lotion did nothing to help heal the rash. We looked like walking sticks of cotton candy. The perfectionist in me — it does exist despite my cluttered desk — took pride in the grade. An A-plus doesn’t come without some form of sacrifice, right?
Every fall, when the leaves dance across the road, I study the pattern of their swirls. Like elegant dancers, they float, spin and twist. They land for a second, only to catch the wind again and again. I don’t confess to be a naturalist or a biology lover. I don’t hike very often. I have only been camping once. I shiver at the thought of sitting in a tree stand for hours. I seriously don’t know if I could rough it in the great outdoors. I would give it a try, but place my bet on the hotel in the next town. If I am not a great outdoors woman what am I? I am an observer, a collector of words, images and memories. My third grade self knew this before I even picked out a career. I love nature. I enjoy sitting on a porch and looking across the landscape. I like driving down country roads on a chilly autumn day. I would rather walk through the forest than stay the night. It is no surprise that I secretly enjoyed the leaf projects of my elementary days. The assignment was a way to explore the woods beside our house and create a collection of nature. I had an excuse to wander around after school. I kicked acorns on the road and watched the squirrels jump in fright at what probably sounded like a bowling ball rolling down the lane to their tiny ears. I probably picked the ill-fated poison ivy leaf on one of my various after-school routes.