Lit: State By State

by Andrew Keys on May 26, 2010

I have poison ivy. Not bad, but still lousy. In light of that, here’s a bit on the evil ivy from author Ann Patchett. It’s from an essay she wrote on Tennessee as part of an anthology of essays on all 50 states, and I’d been saving it for later in the summer, but it seems its time is now.

“This is poison ivy,” they said, pointing to what seemed to be an entire field. “Leaves of three, let it be. Do not go near it.”

Lee Ann Hunter and I talked it over one night in our tent with all the balanced consideration two eleven-year-olds could muster. We had heard about the plant but had never seen it in action. Unhappy at camp, we felt certain we could ride its vine out of those miserable tents and back into our own sweet beds. The next night after dinner we took a detour through the forest, back to the very field we had been warned against. Like virgins to a volcano, we threw ourselves in. We rolled in it. We picked it. We rubbed it in our hair and stuffed it in our shirts and ground it into our eyes. Reader, we ate it. What was so bad about camp? It was boring? We didn’t like the food? Some other girl got the better bunk? That part of the story is lost to memory. All I know is that we turned to the plant in our hour of need as much as Juliet turn to a plant: to transport her out of a difficult situation and into a happier time. Like Juliet, we miscalculated the details. I cannot say the hospital was a better place to spend my summer, but I was out of Sycamore.

– Ann Patchett, “Tennessee,” State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America.

OK, so I didn’t EAT the poison ivy…

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