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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates

Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates
Tom Robbins

Earlier this summer, I had the worst case of poison ivy that I have ever had. The worst case that I’ve ever seen, actually. It started innocently enough. Her Ladyship had pointed out that there were a few poison ivy plants hanging about the front garden, and that they were probably directly related to the small itchy bumps that had been appearing on our persons since the cats took to their summer homes huddled beneath the hemlock trees. Being the strapping young courtier that I am, I bravely and selflessly volunteered to extricate them. And being the prudent fountain of practical wisdom that I am, I donned a pair of rubber gloves and headed out the door to duel the herbivorous serpent.
poison ivy
The thing that I neglected to calculate was that poison ivy isn’t a regular plant like a daisy or a dandelion. It’s a vine. So as I grabbed at the first couple of green shoots, I found out that they were connected to longer shoots, which were in turn connected to longer shoots. I knew that if I were going to beat the thing, I needed to find the root. So I followed vine after vine, pulling them along with me as I went, and stuffing the tendrils into a trash bag. Before I knew it, I had filled one garbage bag and was getting started on a second. After an hour or so, I had dug up the tap root and had a trash can full of urushiol-soaked evil. I did the usual cleaning up and tossing of clothes into the laundry, and hoped for the best.
A few hours after that, the itching started. I left for a conference the next day, and by the time the plane landed in San Jose, I had one arm wrapped in a bandana. By the following morning, I had both arms wrapped in surgical sponges and bandages to contain the eruption. I was drinking extra water to avoid dehydration. This made for a really terrific conference. “Hi, can I interest you in information on software to… say, what’s that leaking out of your elbow?” I’m fairly sure the hotel wasn’t going to be reusing the bed clothes after I checked out.
On the flight home, I read Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates. I sought not so much a book as a panacea, something to take the edge off my slow but steady conversion into the Toxic Avenger. For that, it worked pretty well. It’s not a book that changed my life, but it’s a book that prominently features fornication with nuns, which can’t be all bad.
Oh, about the poison ivy — I like to think that I won in the end. Since The Great Purging (and subsequent Great Weeping), there hasn’t been any the rest of the summer. Nor have Her Ladyship and I had to suffer any more of those tiny itchy bumps. Of course, there are the scars on my arms with which to contend…