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May 05, 2007

Creek scene at Belgatos Park, Los Gatos, CACreek embankments are cool and inviting on a warm spring or summer day.  It is very tempting to inch your way down to the stream, toss away the flip flops and let the gentle current sweep past your dusty, dry toes.

But please be careful. 

Everything is very, very green this time of year.  The grass and live oaks and scrub all tangle together with thistles and berries and vines.  Among them, blending in just perfectly, is poison oak.

I’ve been really lucky in my life: I’ve never been snared by this itch-inducing plant. But my older brother, Steve, used to chase after golf balls into the rough at Pasatiempo and often came back with much more than a ball or two.  He would become terribly swollen up, each occurance worse than the one before. The Calomine Lotion was slathered on generously and dried into a crusty nastiness that I will never forget.  He looked awful, and felt worse. 

Poison Oak in Spring - Shiny leaves "of three" - Los Gatos, CASomehow I just never got it. Maybe it’s that I don’t play golf – am not supposed to due to some rods in my back for scoliosis.  And in Spring I am plagued with hayfever – green things are not as tempting to me as to others.  So avoiding contact with the tall green everything always seemed to be in my best interest.

My better half, Jim, is a volunteer Parks Commissioner for the town of Los Gatos and he spends a great deal of time in parks.  On Sunday we went through Belgatos (again) and this time, Jim taught me how to identify poison oak. I’d always heard Poison Oak - not in direct sunlight - Spring (leaves turn red in fall) - Los Gatos, CA“leaves of three, let it be” and knew that in the autumn, the leaves turn a bright red. But I really didn’t know, other that that, what it looked like.

Immediately prior to my lesson in identifying poison oak, I allowed Bella, our dog, too close to the stuff and he hollared, “don’t you see the poison oak?” Apparently I was tempting fate and Jim realized I was clueless.   He made sure, right then and there, that I got a lesson in how to recognize it.  (Our vet has confirmed that dogs can, and do, carry the poison oak plant oils home, an amazing way to infect everyone quickly.  Jim pictured our pooch spreading it to every member of the family.) 

What I then noticed was most cruel: the poison oak was interwoven with wild blackberry bushes on the creek banks.

Talk about a tease.

Now I know what to look for. I want you to be equally well armed. Have a good, long study of these photos and make sure you don’t ever get too close to a plant that looks like this – no matter how many berries beckon you, no matter how delicious that water looks on a warm day.

It’s not worth it. Ask my brother.

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