By JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
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.
This week, I called my mom after work for our unusual post-work chat. I asked her about the leaf project. Did she think it was still in the attic? It is has been more than 20 years since I put that binder together. She laughed at the question. I guess parents don’t keep everything, even A-plus projects. Both my mom and dad were active participants in my education. They helped with everything from leaves to bugs to book reports. They didn’t do the work, but assisted with the more technical skills like adding contact paper or punching holes for the binder. My dad also drove to my grandparent’s houses so I could pick leaves out their yards too. And that is how my mom got the A-plus rash that year — by helping press out the leaves. Unfortunately, she is highly sensitive to the leaf. It takes shots, steroids and multiple trips to the doctor to get rid of the rash. Our memories of the leaf project differ slightly. I have fond memories of the forest and nature. She recalls the doctor’s office.
The leaves are falling and dancing around the two Virginias. I am watching the mountains, waiting for the final burst of color on top of East River Mountain. I am not sure if children in the area still look for leaves for their teachers. I hope they still do. I want to experience the joys of helping my future child make his or her leaf collection. Without a poison ivy leaf, of course. It will be an A-plus effort either way.
Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @BDTParsell.