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An Encounter With Poison Ivy!

By David K. Joyce

In October of 2009, the Walker Mineralogical Club had a trip to the Pinchin Quarry, actually, a series of old marble quarries and waste dumps near Malone, Ontario. We were after vesuvianite and epidote crystals which can occur in excellent specimens at this locality. We went on a day that had been preceded by ample rain and it rained much of the way to the locality, that morning. By the time we arrived and went to the most promising dump the rain had abated and I removed my raincoat.

The method of collecting here is to dig through the waste rock dump and find chunks of rock that have calcite, under-which might be excellent vesuvianite or epidote crystals. As with many waste rock dumps in southern Ontario, the years have deposited multi-layers of old leaves on and between the rocks, eventually developing into an environment where small plants, raspberries, trees and other plants, including poison ivy grow quite happily.

My method of digging in these kind of localities is to find a high dump slope and dig into the side of the dump, moving large quantities of rock with the help of gravity to expose the desirable lumps. I undertook this strategy that day and dug into the side of the dump first moving the roots and leaves to expose the rock chunks and then digging into the side of the dump, occasionally moving more roots and leaves from the top as I dug into the side.

This is a picture of the spot with me digging happily away, oblivious to poison ivy or any other hazard. A lovely looking place to collect minerals. (B. Fulcher photo)

Didn’t see any poison ivy which I know very well from my childhood encounters and years of avoiding it on collecting trips! It has a distinctive three leaf pattern which is unforgettable. I haven’t had a dose of it for 40 years! Well, I guess there were poison ivy roots there. I’ve heard that you can get it from roots. They look like any other roots and have no distinguishing features that I know of. In the late fall, the leaves are gone, there is no surficial trace of the plant but the roots and stems are still active and full of poison ivy juice. If you get the juice on your skin, you will end up with a rash, more or less terrible depending on exposure, amount, conditions, time, etc. I got it good this time. First time if 40 years despite collecting in many places where poison ivy is prevalent. ! I think the combination of wet shirt, wet roots, leaning on the muckpile (and thus the roots) made for a perfect storm for me to get a major dose.

As it happened, I had to go to a conference in Ottawa, a couple of days afterwards and then on a mineral buying trip to Quebec after that. I noticed the poison ivy rash as we left for Ottawa. It wasn’t too bad and I thought it would not be a big problem. I’d wear long sleeve shirts and nobody would notice. It worked. The poison ivy rash, however got worse and worse and, after four days was a festering mess of blisters, liberally oozing yellow fluids. And the itching/tickling! That is one of the symptoms of poison ivy is the incessant itching and tickling sensation from the wound. Hard to sleep! Hard to concentrate!

I started to worry. I decided the only way to manage it was to wrap it lightly in non-adhering gauze pads and light gauze, allowing it to “breathe” but catching all of the liquid, as well. One of my friends in Montreal, Gilles Haineault, gave me some lotion which helped soothe the itching.

When I finally returned home, I went straight to the doctor and he gave me a prescription for prednisone and penicillin, the standard treatment for really bad poison Ivy. Two weeks after the initial infection, it finally felt like it was healing. Three weeks after, it is finally dried up. It STILL ITCHES/TICKLES! Aieee Aeeiieee Aeeii!

I don’t know why I’m telling you all this except that it may make you a little more careful if you are collecting in southern Ontario, Quebec or the U.S. of A. where this plant thrives. I will be extra vigilant in the future when collecting in areas where poison ivy is known, particularly in the late fall when the leaves are gone!

This is what I was after! Nice vesuvianite crystals in calcite The top crystal is 3.0cm long

This is what I found! Didn’t look too bad?!

It kept getting worse!

The worst thing is that I didn’t even FIND one good specimen to make it all worth-while. I don’t think that anyone on the trip found anything worth keeping that day. It was a nice day in the woods, though. So there you are. Watch out for poison ivy!

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