For years I’ve noticed how many plants resemble poison ivy, and how often they grow close together.  Poison ivy plays tricks on us, taking many different forms and confusing us with its look alikes: its genus name Rhus sounds like ruse.  Coincidence?

A friend in Peterborough was told by another friend that her yard is full of poison ivy.  I went over and found the yard full of wild strawberry, another plant with leaflets grouped in threes.  So I decided it’s time to write something on this topic!

The genus Rhus includes the sumacs as well as poison ivy.  The genus belongs in the family Anacardiaceae, home also to the mango and the cashew.  There is a poison sumac, Rhus vernix, but I have never seen it in New Hampshire, so the sumacs we do have – staghorn sumac the most obvious – are harmless to us.

Staghorn sumac - Rhus typhina   Anacardia - Cashew

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is common in New Hampshire. The fruits turn red in the fall.

Dwarf sumac - Rhus copallina   Anacardia - Cashew

Dwarf sumac (Rhus copallina) is less common in NH. Note the “wings” on each side of the stem between the leaflets.

Not so poison ivy or Rhus radicans.  The oil in the plant, urushiol, can cause severe itching, blistering and worse for people sensitive to it.  Not everyone is, but for those of us who are, it’s important to wash the oil off the skin with a strong soap (brown fels naphtha soap was the weapon of choice when I was a child) as soon as possible after contact.  A mild soap may just spread the oil – and the rash – further afield. 

This versatile plant can grow as a dense ground cover; as a vine climbing over walls and up trees, attaching itself with fine aerial rootlets; or as a self-supporting shrubby plant.  Perhaps this latter gave rise to the name “poison oak” or Rhus toxicodendron.  This is not an oak but a very close relative of poison ivy, a southern species that some botanists prefer to classify as Rhus radicans.

Poison ivy - Rhus radicans   Anacardia - Cashew

Young poison ivy leaflets are bronze-red and shiny.

Poison Ivy

Poison ivy in flower. The leaflets still have a sheen.

Poison ivy

Flowers have become berries, which will turn white in the fall.



This vine climbs high into a tree along a stream bank in eastern Kentucky.


The lower branches of this tree in Hyden, KY …



… are actually poison ivy vines hanging down from the trunk!

There are two large families of plants that have many members with leaves divided into three leaflets:  these are the Pea and Rose families.  The Rose family includes the bramble fruits (blackberry, raspberry, dewberry), most of which have three-part leaves.  It also includes the wild strawberry I found in my friend’s lawn.

Common dewberry - Rubus flagellaris   Rosaceae - Rose / Rose

Dewberry (in genus Rubus) crawls low across the ground.

Wild strawberry - Fragaria virginiana   Rosa - Rose

Wild strawberry grows in our lawns.


The terminal 3 leaflets of a rose leaf might deceive us into seeing poison ivy where there is only rose.


Raspberry canes have three-part leaves.



The leaflets of the brambles have toothed margins.  Pea leaflets have smoother margins.


A characteristic chevron marks the leaflets of red clover.


A roadside pea in eastern Kentucky


Hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata) grows along roads in NH.


Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata) is an invasive pea that overwhelms all other plants, even tall trees, in areas that are opened to the sun. It’s commonly seen along highways in the Southeast.

Lest you think that it’s only members of the pea and rose family that produce poison ivy look alikes ….

Wild sarsaparilla - Aralia nudicaulis   Aralia - Ginseng

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is a member of the ginseng family. The glossy reddish leaves in the spring look just like poison ivy, but note that the stem divides into three parts.


A young box elder (Acer negundo) seedling shows five leaflets on red stems. Each leaf is placed opposite another on the main stem.

Box elder

The seeds of box elder are typical maple seeds.


Many other tree seedlings have compound leaves, and when young, the leaf may show only three leaflets. This  leaf of an ash seedling has seven.


A common look alike is Virginia creeper or woodbine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).  It has a distinctive leaf with five leaflets, so it shouldn’t be confused with poison ivy.  However, it grows in a very similar way to poison ivy:  as ground cover and climbing vine.



Virginia creeper climbs over a fence.


And here it climbs a tree.




Have you noticed that snow crystals refract light as does a prism? This is one phenomenon my camera cannot see as well as the eye does.

I have just written two posts without photos about the suffering of people in the Balkans from one war after another.  I’ve suggested that the reasons for this conflict lie not only with the people who live in this crossroads for armies and trade, but very much with the colonial powers (now called “the international community”) who imposed their will on the smaller and weaker countries of the Balkans.

Is there an answer to this continual strife?

Do you recognize the young woman on the left in ethnic dress?


How about this photo of the same woman?


Now you know whose are the two photos above.


Mother Teresa was born in Skopje of Albanian parents and lived there from 1910 to 1928.  She received her vocation very early and spent most of her 87 years in India where she founded the Missionaries of Charity.

The Mother Teresa Memorial House opened in Skopje in 2009.  It stands on the site of the Catholic Church where Mother Teresa was baptized.


Mother Teresa, now Saint Teresa, struggled with her faith, as her letters reveal.  However, despite her struggles, she lived the two commandments of Jesus to an extraordinary degree:  Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.   (According to Richard Rohr, Jesus distilled these two rules for life from no less than 613 “clear biblical commandments”!)


When I Google the Golden Rule I find well over 50 versions from religious and ethical traditions all over the world, stretching back long before Jesus.  Love of neighbor is not reserved for those who follow a religion.  It is always in season!


If we indeed did unto others as we would have them do unto us – if that is the way we actually lived, all of us – there would still be conflict, but there would not be war.










One morning in Skopje, we walked over the Stone Bridge that crosses the Vardar River and saw a statue of a gentleman with a fine mustache who was beheaded some centuries ago at this spot.  He had rebelled against Ottoman rule and paid the price.

Later in the day, at the Monastery of Sveti Spas, we found the stone sarcophagus that holds the remains of Goce Delcev, another hero of Macedonian resistance who paid the same price, but in ­­­1903.

The Museum of Macedonia (which I wrote about in previous posts) had an exhibit of photos and text about the ethnic Macedonians from northern Greece who joined the Democratic Army of Greece (the military wing of the Greek Communist Party) in the terrible civil war that convulsed Greece from the end of World War II until 1949.   This war was a proxy war, the first time the Cold War became “hot”.   Under the Truman Doctrine, the United States threw its support behind the Greek government.

The civil war caused tremendous suffering throughout Greece.  In the north it led to the exile of 25-30,000 children (most of them ethnic Slavic Macedonians) to safe havens in neighboring countries.  Many of them never found their families again nor could they return to Greece.  Here’s a link to an article about these children:   Refugee Children

This history goes a long way toward explaining the continued struggle over the official name of this country: for Greece, NATO and the European Union it is “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, and it will soon become “The Republic of North Macedonia” under the Prespa Accord of 2018 between Greece and Macedonia.

What’s in a name?  The Kingdom of Macedonia conquered much of the ancient world under Philip II and his son Alexander the Great.  Alexander’s empire fell apart after his death.  In modern times, the territory where that kingdom was born was divided up between the Kingdoms of Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece after the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.  “Southern Serbia” became part of Yugoslavia as the People’s Republic of Macedonia (1944), then the Socialist Republic of Macedonia (1963).  It was renamed the Republic of Macedonia in September, 1991 with the collapse of Yugoslavia.  Greece and present day Macedonia want to claim the legacy of Alexander, and probably Bulgaria would like to also.  Add to this contest over bragging rights the bitterness of the Greek civil war, and all the other wars that have marched across the Balkans, and the squabble over a name becomes a multi-dimensional history of pain.

It is easy, and convenient, to characterize the peoples of the Balkans – Turks, Greeks, Serbs, Croats, Albanians, Romanians, Bosniaks – as inveterate warriors, never able to lay down their weapons or their grudges.  The same has been said about the people of the Middle East who continue, after so many years, to fight with each other.  And it could be said about many other parts of the globe.

What this explanation overlooks is the central role of the “Great Powers” – the colonial nations of Europe and then the United States – in creating the conditions for ongoing strife.  Rulers have been overthrown, artificial boundary lines drawn, treaties imposed, resources commandeered.  If the Balkans is a powder keg, Misha Glenny suggests in The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers, the keg was placed there by powerful neighbors looking after their own interests.

In his eloquent review of Glenny’s book 20 years ago in The Guardian, Neal Ascherson wrote: “If the Balkans are a bad dream, then we are the dreamer. Our title changes down the years – the Great Powers, the West, the international community, but the nightmare recurs. Is this because the Balkans really are an ancestral sulphur-pit welling up an endless flow of hatred, chaos and sadistic cruelty? Or is it because we somehow need to keep having this dream, to gloat over this frightful ‘otherness’ which reassures us as we wake that we will never be like that?”

That need to see our neighbor as “the other” is at the root of this history of suffering.

A remarkable Museum of the Holocaust opened in Skopje in 2011.  It recounts the history of the Jewish people from earliest days through the Middle Ages and the great flowering of Jewish knowledge and culture (along with Christian and Muslim) in Spain.  It pays great attention to the Inquisition and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, which brought thousands of Sephardim to the Balkans, not only to great cities like Thessaloniki and Constantinople but to smaller cities such as Bitola, Stip and Skopje.

At the time of the Inquisition, the Ottoman ruler Sultan Bayezid II invited the Jews of Spain to his Empire and apparently sent ships to bring them (though most had to emigrate by land).  He commented that King Ferdinand II of Spain was a fool to drive out such valuable subjects, and that Spain’s loss was the Ottomans’ gain.

The museum tells the story beautifully of the Jews in the Balkans: their home, civic and religious lives, and their place in the larger communities where they managed to hold on and thrive, treated as second class citizens but none the less respected as “people of the book” by the Ottomans.

Then came the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1920 and the years of war and depression that led to the rise of the Nazis.  Germany’s ally Bulgaria invaded present day Macedonia, rounded up the Jews of Macedonia and made plans to send them to Treblinka along with Bulgaria’s own Jewish population.  In a remarkable act of courage, important Bulgarians, including the King, the Metropolitans of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, politicians and prominent citizens protested against the planned deportations.  Though Jewish men were sent to build roads and do other hard labor, none of Bulgaria’s Jews were sent to the death camps.

Macedonia’s Jews were not saved.  According to one article I have read on line, Bulgaria’s government tried to work through Switzerland to gain entry to British-controlled Palestine for non-Bulgarian Jews, but Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Minister, denied this request.  The Bulgarian government then surrendered these Jews to the Nazis who sent them to their death.  Here is the web reference: Jews of Macedonia: Wikipedia

Whether the Bulgarians could not or would not save the Macedonians, they did not.  The Jews of Macedonia were rounded up, warehoused in the Monopol tobacco factory in Skopje, and shipped out on three transport trains.  Almost none came back: of the 3,276 residents of the 400 year old community in Bitola who were sent to Treblinka, not one survived.  No country suffered the decimation of its Jewish population to the extent that Macedonia did.

After the war, most survivors emigrated to Israel.  Some 200 Jews still live in the Republic of Macedonia, most of them in Skopje.

Lina left from Istanbul for Manila at 2AM on January 18.  I had a 14 hour layover and spent part of that time wandering through Istanbul.  The Metro from the airport stops at Aksaray Station and that is where my wanderings started and ended.  The photos here were taken from 7:40, just before dawn, until just after noon.



Dawn over the Bosporus, Asia in the distance

This was a magical time to walk through the narrow streets of a district around the Süleymaniye Mosque.  I found old wooden buildings, some in good repair, others falling down.


A sign on a home in Ayranci Street told me the building was 180 years old.



Street art at the corner of Ayranci Street

Mosques were flood lit before dawn,


The Süleymaniye Mosque on Istanbul’s Third Hill


A former hamam or “Turkish bath” seen from the grounds of the Süleymaniye Mosque

markets were waking up,



All the vendors I saw were men. How striking when, in so many countries, women are selling goods from stalls like these.


Herbs and spices – some, I think, for tea like the rose buds in the foreground.


Many kinds of “biber” or pepper

and I had nothing but kindness from the man who sold me some burek (cheese pie) and tea, the vendor who pressed fresh pomegranate juice


and all the other “strangers” whom I encountered as I walked the morning streets.


A ferry carries passengers across the Bosporus.


The University of Istanbul’s front gate


A doorway with three mannequins beckons.


Inside, a courtyard surrounded by arcades …



and a marble fountain.

Life offers such rewards when I can trust myself to wandering.

On our last two days in Greece, Lina and I visited Ancient Corinth, the Parthenon and the magnificent new Acropolis Museum.  These ruins tell such stories, stories of magnificence and of destruction.


The Temple of Apollo, looking north across the Gulf of Corinth. The peak in the distance may be Mount Parnassus, with Delphi on its southern slope.


The Romans razed Corinth in 146 BCE and rebuilt it 100 years later. The Temple of Apollo is one of the few buildings that was preserved.

It is hard to imagine them at the height of their glory.  Artists can render the buildings as we think they were but they cannot recreate for me the feeling of entering these cities and shrines even on a “normal” day, much less on one of the great festival days.  That requires a great stretch of the imagination, a capacity to visualize what once was.


The springs of the Peirene Fountain fed the city of Ancient Corinth.


A remnant of one of the Christian basilicas built in Ancient Corinth

A fine museum on the site of Ancient Corinth contains many artifacts from the site, including these vibrant mosaics.




A shepherd tends his flocks. My granddaughter asked, “Why is he naked?” Good question!


The heads of two famous Roman emperors:  Julius Caesar and Nero.


The columns and foundations that remain on ancient sites, and the blocks of marble strewn about, tell of war, earthquake and pillage, as well as the passing of time.  The Acropolis was  often under siege, whether from other Greek city states or foreign powers:  Persians, Romans, “barbarians”, Ottomans, Venetians.

In 480 BCE the Persians sacked Athens and destroyed the temples on the Acropolis.  The Parthenon was built on the rubble.


The east side of the Parthenon


The Caryatids – columns in the form of women – of the Erechtheion: these are reproductions.

The Romans sometimes used a building as they found it but very often tore all or part of it down and remade it in their own image.  For instance, the Theater of Dionysos on the south slope of the Acropolis, the birthplace of Greek drama and comedy, was converted into an arena for gladiators.


A marble frieze at the back of the stage of the Theater of Dionysos, where Greeks first saw the plays of Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles and Aristophanes

Early Christians destroyed much of the “pagan” sculpture on the Parthenon around the 5th century CE.  In 1458 the Turks occupied Athens and turned the temple into a mosque.  During the battle for Athens in 1687, the occupying Ottomans stored ammunition there, and the Venetian general Morosini  shelled the Parthenon, detonating the magazine and bringing much of the temple down.  Lord Elgin ransacked what was left to take it to London, where in 1816 he received a huge payoff for his plunder, the famous “Elgin Marbles”.


Little of the original sculpture remains on the Parthenon: here, a remnant seen at the northeast corner.


The Acropolis Museum preserves five caryatids with their elaborately plaited hair. A film shows the remarkable restoration efforts used to clean, repair and stabilize what has survived warfare, neglect and modern pollution.

Stones do talk!


A long walk around the Acropolis and the Agora brought us to the Tower of the Winds near sunset on January 15.



Sufis worship in a teke rather than a mosque.  Tetovo, in northwestern Macedonia, is home to the largest and best preserved teke outside Turkey.  It belongs to the Bektashi order of Sufism and is named for Arabati Baba, a student of Sersem Ali Baba, an important dervish who came to this mountainous outpost of the Ottoman Empire to practice and teach the Bektashi way.  After Ali Baba died in 1538, Ali Baba founded the monastery in his honor.

The Arabati Baba Teke is a large complex of beautiful buildings, built at the end of the 18th century, that “features flowered lawns, prayer rooms, dining halls, lodgings and a great marble fountain inside a wooden pavilion.”  Yesterday, the flowered lawns were nowhere to be seen!


The Shara Mountain rises behind the teke to a height of 6,079 feet.



The Albanian and Bektashi flags hang on the türbe or tomb.  The Bektashi here in Tetovo are ethnic Albanians.



A beautiful wooden door opens into a marble pavilion.



This tomb holds the spirit of Sersem Ali Baba, the founder of the teke. His body lies in Turkey.


A corn crib woven of saplings, perhaps willow

During the time of Tito’s Yugoslavia, the state expropriated the teke and turned it into a hotel and museum.  In the 1990s, the teke returned to the Bektashi, although they have been struggling to retain control of the site.  The Islamic Community of Macedonia, a legally recognized organization that claims to represent all Muslims in Macedonia, has since 2002 tried to claim the (Shi’a) teke as a (Sunni) mosque.

We went to the teke with our dear friend Merita and met Dervish Abdylmutalip Beqiri.  He updated her on the Bektashi efforts to gain full recognition of their rights to the site from the Macedonian government.  I hope this beautiful place can once again become a center for Bektashi worship and wisdom.

img_1114 (1)

Dervish Mutalip



Leaving the teke



The Painted Mosque (Sarena Dzamija) stands by the Pena River in the center of Tetovo.  The Sarena Dzamija was built in 1438 and was financed by two sisters from Tetovo.  This remarkable mosque is decorated inside and out with bright floral, geometric and landscape paintings.  We are told that the oil paints required 30,000 eggs!



A closeup of the exterior wall


It will soon be time for prayer.



Note the city scapes painted at the top.


A remarkable painted dome depicts sites sacred to Islam, including the shrine at Mecca.


An octagonal “türbe” houses the graves of Hurshida and Mensure, the two sisters who financed the construction of the Painted Mosque.


Models of houses from different parts of Macedonia, both town and village, in an upper gallery; with a fine exhibit of photos on the walls


A fine town house from Ohrid


A country home with outbuildings


A receiving room or “odaja” in a fine town house, influenced by the Ottoman style


A village “odaja”


Village room or “kukja”


Village kitchen