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Aired on Wisconsin Public Radio's Wisconsin Life, April 10, 2013.
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Sometime in April the yolk-yellow stars of dandelions burst in the grass, so vivid after our months of color-starvation that my heart lifts, even though I know what’s coming. They would have been welcome for more than just their color in harder times. Laura Ingalls mentions gathering the leaves for salad in her Wisconsin childhood. They come up with the sorrel, well before the lettuce, the first edible greens.
Once they’ve seduced me with their irresistible splashes of citron they get down to business. While I’m strolling around, luxuriating in the mild weather, awash in good will and reluctant to start the season’s work of weeding, they put in a bid to take over the world. They send up improvised launching pads that overnight sprout into downy, star-studded globes of tender fuzz. I have the sense, looking at dandelion seed-heads, of staring into galaxies. But they’re really an army of parachutists. The places where they have been left to their own devices are a sign of what they have in mind: absolute domination.
I become temporarily obsessed with dandelions—their beauty, their tenacity, their greed for life. Their name matches their fierceness: it means “lion's tooth.”They are hell-bent on raising their ethereal offspring, hoisting them up to send them out into the world, airy, light, unburdened. Their reproductive urgency is daunting. Every year I think I can’t do it, this year I’ll use Round-Up. But the idea of rounding up dandelions is a joke. Each year I can’t quite bring myself to poison them, although I have dark, dandecidal fantasies.
Instead I pull out my dandelion rooter and go defeatedly to work. All I can hope to do is hold them back a little. As I dig them up I think grimly of eating them—but my relationship with them has become so personal it seems like vengeful cannibalism. Mostly the best I can do is to get a chunk of root—they are so legion I can’t hope to get the whole thing every time, although sometimes when the soil is soft and damp I can get the blade in at just the right angle and ease out an entire taproot. For three weeks, I have blisters on my thumbs, dirt under my broken nails, my back aches, and at night I dream of dandelion roots.
The patch on the terrace by the road is simply too dense to uproot, so at night my 9-year-old and I go out and laboriously pick all the seed spheres. Each day a whole new crop materializes out of thin air. I lug sack after sack of their corpses to the dump, unwilling to put them in my compost, fearing a revolution in the back yard.
At some imperceptible point in mid-May the dandelion seed-phase will pass and the grass takes over—when the fireflies come. And the mosquitos. Sleeping dragons, they haven’t woken yet. It’s still Eden out there. There's a purity and freshness to the air. The dusks are deep blue, all the summer still ahead of us.