One July day Karen and I took a walk in the woods. Summer friends since our days as kindergarteners a decade before, things had changed. Karen had changed. Sister of my best friend David, her tomboy ways with fishing poles and bait, canoes, axes and snakes had added visual allure while losing none of her outdoors prowess. Our walking took us into Cleo’s woods, where there was an old log we knew in a clearing of the pine needle path. All of us Horseshoe Lake kids, in various configurations had long used it as a bench to sit on and talk. I had used it in solitude countless times to sit, absorb whatever the Minnesota North woods wanted to soak me with. Sights, sounds, aromas; Mother Nature always with something to say, I was always a good listener.
The day that Karen and I took the walk started out like most others discussing grandparents, fishing, stuff. Having walked these woods countless times, we knew every bend in the trail, every decaying stump, every skylight-break in the pine canopy. The long-ago felled tree lie in the clearing, as it had for years. We sat, we talked, I casually picked up a couple of acorns and threw them at eavesdropping chipmunks, causing them to chatter at me while scampering away and causing Karen to kiss me or maybe I kissed her, then suddenly she was sitting on my lap but then we fell off the log.
Reflexively thrusting my arms back, I was able to brace myself, stopping at a teeter; my legs draped over the log, my butt on the ground, both hands flattened out with fingers pointing backwards. I did not drop Karen, and she laughed – at falling of the log, my awkward posture, my kissing. Who knows. We stayed that way for a while as there was no reason not to.
An hour later, back at the house, fondly remembering the afternoon, I noticed the telltale rash and felt the familiar itch on the inside of my forearms. Sitting there, legs dangling over that log, with Karen on my lap, my arms had been braced firmly behind me in a patch of poison ivy. The resulting discomfort of a few days quelled by Fels-Naptha soap and Calamine lotion, though the puzzled questioning from adults inquiring how “You got poison ivy THERE” seemed only understood by Cleo, who laughingly reminded me as he had for years, that I was welcome to walk – and stop – in his woods anytime I wanted.
Even after all these years, it is an itch I still want to scratch.
Mark L. Lucker