Our 5-year-old neighbor Will spotted it first, as he and my son chased each other with plastic light sabers like pint-size Jedi.
“Leaves of three; let it be!” Will yelled.
That three-leaf plant was an advance scout for an army of poison ivy that would invade our southern Durham backyard like a horde of Huns charging from the steppes.
I thought by simply pulling up the plant that I had prevailed and the ivy was defeated. Life went on: work, taking the kid to school, keeping up with the NBA playoffs, etc. Then the rain came.
A few days later I walked into my backyard and found myself in what appeared to be a South American rain forest. It was everywhere. Poison Ivy on the trees, growing closer and closer toward our house, its tentacles were like the kraken of pirate tales, swimming maliciously through a sea of green grass.
“Nuke it! Let’s get as much Roundup as we can and light up the backyard like Schwarzenegger lit up the Predator,” I announced, a few decibels higher than what was necessary.
My wife reminded me that our son enjoys playing in the backyard where I now wanted to unleash a ton of chemicals. Thus, the nuclear option was off the table.
I was angry at the poison ivy. My wife and I work hard, and we like to have some money to do fun things in the summer. We didn’t want to spend our hard-earned green on getting rid of a vine that had turned our quaint backyard into a location for "Survivor."
With chemicals off the table, I had nothing.
Thankfully, my better half, our family’s caring and rational problem solver was on the case. I could tell by the look in her eye a plan was percolating.
The next day she told me what it was.
“Goat Squad," she said.
I didn’t follow.
Muhammad Ali, Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, they’re GOATs, meaning greatest of all time. What in the world could these extraordinary people have to do with solving the ivy epidemic in our backyard?
My wife pulled up the website on the computer. The Goat Squad is located in Carrboro. They specialize in eco-friendly removal of invasive vegetation, and what could possibly be more eco-friendly than a herd of goats eating foliage?
But I’ll admit, at first, I wasn’t sold. My knowledge of goats basically comes from an episode of "Sanford and Son," where Fred Sanford's neighbor’s goat gets loose and ends up eating a pot of Fred’s barbecue ribs and collard greens.
I know goats as menu items: curry goat, goat cheese and goat milk. All of which I’ve heard are quite tasty, but I’ll never know. I’ve always felt goat milk is for baby goats and not to be persnickety, but I ain’t eating anything that’s rocking horns, hooves and a beard.
My dietary prejudice aside, could these goats actually return a poison-ivy apocalypse to the family-friendly sanctuary it once was?
We made the call. The Goat Squad showed up with 24 goats and a fence.
Neighbors, my son’s classmates, family members, all converged on our backyard to watch these magnificent mercenaries.
They attacked the ivy with a tactical precision, tall goats eating the ivy vines that had grown up tree trunks, short goats put in the groundwork getting into the hard to reach spaces where the ivy thought it could hide.
The next morning, I walked out on my back porch with my coffee and gazed upon the goat herd.
I was awestruck.
There was not a leaf of ivy in sight or anything else green that had decided to infiltrate our landscape. At the end of the day, a mere 24 hours after their arrival, The Goat Squad filed into their trailer and left for parts unknown like Paladin from the old western, "Have Gun Will Travel," riding out of town on a horse at sunset.
The battle however, goes on.
Even though the ivy suffered a huge defeat, it will counterattack as soon as the next rain. Our friend Dale, the Gandalf of gardening, is helping us prepare.
Should you dear reader, find yourself in a similar situation, remember there is always the horned, hooved, bearded option. It’s like the introduction from 1980s "The A-Team": If you have a problem that no one else can help, and you can find them (firstname.lastname@example.org), maybe you too can hire "The Goat Squad.”
Howard Craft is a Durham playwright. Write him in c/o editor Mark Schultz at email@example.com