Spring Rain at Halsey Pond

We spent a cool and misty spring afternoon at Halsey Pond today for our Wacky Wednesday Walk, and were treated to swans and geese and puddles. On the way up the hill to the pond loop we spent some time learning about a poisonous plant that has been sprouting up all over the place with the warming weather. For three seasons out of the year I spend quite a bit of time pointing out poison ivy on the trails–it climbs on trees and fences and stone walls, it creeps along the forest floor, it camouflages itself among harmless plants and wildflowers, it can be quite devious. Having grown up in the woods spotting poison ivy at a pretty young age, I am often surprised by how many adults don’t know how to identify it.Three distinct characteristics of poison ivy are: 1. clusters of three leaflets, 2. an alternate leaf arrangement, 3. a lack of thorns. Additionally, the tiny leaves that emerge early in the spring are often red-tinged and shiny, while in the fall the mature plant can turn bright reddish-orange. Finally, in the wintertime, dormant poison ivy vines (which still contain urushiol–the oil that gives us that itchy rash) are those thick, hairy ones climbing up the trees. There are some catchy rhymes to help folks remember what poison ivy looks like, and I taught the kids a couple of them. The easiest to remember is, “leaves of three, let it be.” Another one is, “Hairy vine, no friend of mine.” And my personal favorite, which I didn’t tell the kids (we had a younger group today), “Raggy rope, don’t be a dope!” A couple others I found online are, “Red leaves in the spring, a dangerous thing,” and “Side leaflets like mittens will itch like the dickens,” referring to the fact that oftentimes the middle of the three leaves is the largest one with two smaller leaflets sticking out on either side. Whatever mnemonic device you choose to help you to identify the plant, keep it in mind the next time you are on the trail with your kids and help them to learn to recognize it. If not, well, you’re gonna need an ocean…

After our poison ivy mini-lesson we made our way slowly around the pond, taking time to watch the birds, to splooge in the puddles, and to find good walking sticks. There was an enthusiastic search for critters toward the end of our hike as someone remembered that it was good salamander weather. The kids dug through the piles of last autumn’s damp leaves lining the trail’s edge in search of any amphibious creatures nesting below. And while no salamanders were uncovered, lots of other wigglies, rollies, and crawlies turned up for inspection. The search went on for quite some time until it was time to move things along and head home for the dinner hour.

Lovely spring hike.

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