Did my neighbors plant poison ivy?

- Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole,

The neighborly thing to do is not to plant poison ivy across a walking trail that encroaches on your property, right? I get that homeowners don’t want people walking on their property and it’s not like I have proof that someone deliberately planted the poison ivy, but I have my suspicions. Here’s what happened: I was walking along a lovely trail in the woods that I hadn’t been on for over a year. There’s a part of the trail that skirts someone’s property. And by skirt, I mean the trail kind of ends and then another trail picks up again after you zip across the perimeter of this property. To my surprise, there’s now a patch of poison ivy, actually more like a landfill, across the trail so you cannot cross onto these people’s property. If this PI sprouted up on its own it’s one thing, but I suspect they intentionally planted it and I am PI-ssed. What about you?

Confidentially yours,


Dear PI-ssed:

To be completely honest, my initial response to this query was to burst into appreciative laughter. Assuming the poison ivy was indeed planted deliberately, that act is surely the Gold Standard of Passive-Aggressive Island Behavior. One does not casually sow or plant poison Ivy. This was one very dedicated soul, who must have gotten royally suited up like a human condom just to get at the stuff without suffering the consequences. This person really, really, really does not want anyone on even the perimeter of their property.

I’m not entirely sure I have the geographic details clear: how do you “zip across the perimeter” of somebody’s property without ending up entirely on their property? Must you cross a narrow isthmus of their land? Does their property line bulge out into what is otherwise public-access land? If the path you are on is an Ancient Way, I believe you have the right to walk on it even if it crosses their property; Town Hall or whichever conservation group holds the land can clear up issues of easements and access. If the public has the legal right to access the property, then you could call in backup and demand they eradicate it (which is unlikely to be successful). But if you don’t want to involve Big Government — or if your legal right to walk the path is a bit fuzzy — there is an excellent option you can try:

Buy some goats. Graze them on poison ivy. Then drink their milk regularly. You will develop an immunity (I speak from childhood experience), and you can just walk on through that patch of poison ivy and continue on your way. If you think this is a pain in the butt, then you are not nearly as dedicated to walking that path as the property owner is to preventing you, so they win. Thanks for playing!

But based on the phrasing of your question, I think you’re less interested in practical advice and more interested in my opinion. I agree with you that the property owner’s behavior isn’t friendly or neighborly, and if you’d like to feel like you’re a nicer person than they are, you go right ahead. It’s not like you’re crossing into their territory to steal their jobs.

That said, you’re not the only one walking on that path. If they’ve had problems with other people trespassing further onto their property and leaving behind beer bottles or mattresses or (insert your own political joke here; I don’t want death threats) — then I can understand why they would put up a barrier. It’s still an unkind and unevolved solution on their part, but you may have wandered across the final chapter of a spectacular backwoods feud. If only they had written to me for advice before it was too late to make everyone miserable.

All that aside, however, I can’t back off of my original response. Talk about home-grown Yankee ingenuity! You kinda have to respect it a little.

That’s my take.

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse and is the author of “I, Iago.” Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.