Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How My Kid Taught Me to Appreciate Weeds

Act #121:  Re-define beauty.
As spring has sprung in the bluegrass state, our yard has been overtaken by dandelions.  Thousands of little yellow flowers nestled  in every nook and corner of our modest front and back yards.  It is times like these that we are reminded that we live on a street of mostly retired folks who seem to spend every waking hour tending to their impeccable lawns, thus making our random patches of dry dead grass, our overgrown bushes, and our sea of yellow dandelions - stand out even more.  Earlier this week, I watched as one of my retired neighbors painstakingly took a spray bottle of weed killer and took out every single individual dandelion in his yard. 
My 5-year old loves blowing dandelion seeds .  He can spend hours running through the yard by himself doing this, which probably contributes to our problem quite a bit.  We have a chemical-free lawn so the only way to really control these stubborn little yellow flowers is by mowing them down along with our grass each week.  Yesterday as we were sitting on our back deck my son and husband had a conversation that went something like this:
Jack:  I think dandelions are the most beautiful flowers ever.
Dad:  Why do you like dandelions so much, Jack?
Jack:  Because you can blow on them and make even more pretty flowers.  Why don't you like dandelions, daddy?  Because you don't like having to mow them down?  Why do you mow them down anyway?  Don't you like flowers?
My husband and I exchanged looks as he couldn't really answer my son's unintentionally profound questions.  Why don't we like those little stubborn wild flowers that insist on being a part of our natural landscape?  Why do we fight them so much?  Why do Americans spend all kinds of time, money, and energy trying to control, kill, and limit little dainty flowers........with poison?  Upon further research (thank you Wikipedia), I discovered some surprising facts about dandelions.  Did you know that dandelion roots actually help bring up nutrition for companion plants, and add minerals and nitrogen to soil?  They are also known to attract pollinating insects and release ethylene gas, which helps fruit ripen.  Dandelions also serve as an important food source for certain birds.  Because its leaves are rich in calcium, potassium, and iron, dandelion leaves have also been a part of the native cuisines of many cultures, eaten raw or boiled, in salads.  In some parts of Europe and China, dandelions are even used as a herbal medicine to treat liver problems, and as a diuretic.   
So, this may just be the year that we embrace a lawn full of little, yellow flowers.  Who are we to determine the value of certain flowers over others?  How do we come to decide what constitutes beauty and what constitutes an obnoxious weed?  Especially when the rest of the world has been seeing its value and beauty for centuries apparently.   The citizens of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia celebrate spring with an annual Dandelion Festival each year.  The dandelion serves as the official flower of the University of Rochester.    In a world where we have learned to so narrowly define beauty for ourselves and for everyone else around us, maybe it's time we learn to embrace the natural beauty that already surrounds us. 
I say, bring on the weeds.  And if you ever come visit, just look for the house with the beautiful yellow flowers.  Happy Spring!


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