Poet, songwriter, and environmentalist Kirk Lumpkin recently retired and now lives with his wife on 80 acres of undeveloped land in Mendocino County in Northern California. After two years of managing their land for forest health, wildlife diversity, and to reduce the possibility of a catastrophic wildfire, he realized he needed to get a better attitude toward poison oak, because he was spending a lot of time with it. So he started with Kate Marianchild’s book Secrets of the Oak Woodland which he quotes from in the introduction to the poem.
Now he’s a State Certified Naturalist and writing poetry about the itchy vine. For this guerrilla reading he stands in front of a crawling expanse of the stuff in its lovely red phase.
Lumpkin’s poem, “To Poison Oak,” appears in Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California, edited by Lucille Lang Day and Ruth Nolan. [Full disclosure: two of my poems appear in the anthology.] If you want to learn more about California’s environment and humans’ complicated relationship with it, poets are a great place to start.
In fact, poison oak is an excellent place to begin.