For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
September 18, 2002 - Poison Oak
On Labor Day weekend, I took my 8 year old son to Salida. It's a lovely town.
We went to the enormous covered pool (fed by local hot springs). We played catch in the park. We drove up a dirt spiral drive to the top of Salida's famous "S" Mountain. We strolled through the historic downtown and declaimed from the stage of a riverside park.
And we took a walk along the Arkansas River.
The river was lovely. Alternately swift and lazy, it winded beneath an azure sky. We had a wonderful time hurling enormous boulders into the current, and skipping stones in the calm spots.
Dressed in shorts and sandals, we jumped along the rocks and the sand until we found ourselves facing nothing but water.
So we backtracked a little. Then we bushwhacked through a swatch of willowy bushes back up to the bank.
That's when I saw it.
At first, it was just a flash at the corner of my eye ... something shaped a little different. It swished against my waistline and left thigh.
From a distance, I took a closer look. It was like an oak tree, but very small. Not a scrub oak. A sort of three-leafed oakish bush, trimmed in yellow.
God, I thought, I hope that's not a poison oak. But then I thought, heck, I've never had an allergic reaction to a plant.
So Perry and I went on. We met some local celebrities for lunch and had a swell time.
All afternoon, we plunged back into the big hot springs.
But that night, I had little red dots all over my belly. By next morning, I had a sort of gash to the right of my navel.
That day, we drove back to Castle Rock. I had vague little itches, which I scratched absentmindedly. My thigh. My forehead. My knee. My ankle. But we enjoyed listening to our library tapes (recommended: Daniel Pinkwater's hilarious "Borgel").
When I woke up the next day, oh my.
When I say "oh my," I mean that for the next 10 days I have had five angry red wounds that "wept" and "suppurated." I'm not sure which of those words is the grosser. But neither is gross enough.
These wounds oozed a clear but (when mopped up with a paper towel) yellowish liquid. A scant 24 hours after I got home, I looked like a burn victim.
I tried to struggle along with my life, but it involved not only my dutiful and daily washings (of pants, pillow cases, pj's and socks), but the discovery that no matter what I did, I could guarantee myself no more than 4 hours of relief.
The best: hot baths. Really hot. I mean hot so hot you actually scream when you get into them. I sprinkled some kind of oatmeal concoction into it, which helped.
I also enjoyed the pinetar poison ivy soap, which is exquisitely and maddeningly close to sandpaper.
Then a variety of creams. I tried several: calamine (good!), benadryl (good), and (at the advice of a local pharmacist) a cortisone cream (very, very bad).
Here's why, as a doctor I later ran across took pains to tell me: cortisone stops inflammation. But inflammation is how the poison works itself out. Since it can't go out, it goes ... sideways. In other words, it spreads. Up along your thighs. Both of them. Higher and higher ...
I got that straightened out (JUST in time). But for the past week or so, I look like I'm doing a bad Gorbachev imitation (the huge red splotch on my ever-higher forehead). Every night, I wake up five or six times with my fingernails lurching toward my abused skin.
I admit it. There were times when my iron discipline has faltered. And I have SCRATCHED.
Why am I telling you this? Well, mainly because I've been remarkably goodnatured about the ordeal so far, and I'VE HAD IT. Sleeping in socks in claustrophobic. I'm cranky. I can't sleep.
And I've reached an important conclusion that I feel a strong need to share. Here it is.
Nature is dangerous. Really. So is exercise. From now on, I plan to just lay around in air-conditioned buildings and not do anything riskier to my skin than read.
I recommend you do the same.