Poison Ivy in the Key of C Minor (an opera)

I know, I know. It wasn’t that long ago I complained about how cold May was, but now. Now that I’ve chosen to take the day off work somebody’s gone and punctured Satan’s left lung releasing a heat index of 120–two degrees past the Geneva Convention treaty for humane outdoor existence.

But I promised my brother I’d take my niece to Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park to count the number of rare Dwarf Trout lilies living there. It’s for some Girl Scout badge and he’s too busy doing oh I don’t know what working in his air-conditioned office I guess.

I bring a plate of cookies for the forest ranger as a blatant bribe to sign my niece’s book so we can just get the hell out of there but as soon as we step out of the car and into the humidity, the hairy forest ranger has us walking through the woods to Hidden Falls and Pioneer Creek. He looks like Smoky the Bear in a big girl’s blouse.

Ten minutes later we are being led down the side of a high and steep ravine, staggering through ankle-deep fungus, sweating, hyperventilating, clinging to clumps of brush and vicious flesh-ripping nettles, the major moments of my life flashing before me in soupy color, the heat screaming through the trees, deer ticks longing to infect me with some muscle-withering disease, and mosquitoes regarding my tender skin the way a Little League team would regard an unattended ice cream truck.

While the ranger and my niece count lilies, I fall face forward into the creek and try to drown myself. When that doesn’t work, I crawl back to the bank and rest my head against a decomposing stump, wondering how I let myself agree to this.

“Fantastic, don’t you think,” the ranger says, slapping his heavily-titted chest. “Getting out of the city and into nature.” I better be in my brother’s will.

Now back in the cool air of my home, I inspect what’s left of my sunburnt and ravished body. I am a heap of sores, rashes, scratches, bruises, hives, bites, pustules, and cuts. I look like an early Christian after a particularly stressful day with the lions.

The state park has its pastoral value of course. The acres and acres of untouched trees, the clear air, merry waterfall, fauna and flora whirling about in heavenly ecstasy. And I’d trade every painful bit of it for the ease of crossing Grand Avenue during the haze of rush hour to grab a margarita in the nearest bar.

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