A splash of yellow caught my eye while waiting at a stoplight the other morning. In the center of a large concrete median, surrounded by a lake of asphalt where three multilane roads meet and diverge, a bush of a dandelion plant burst from a crack.
The leaves, full and green, spilled and sprawled from the bottom while more stems than would fit in my fist stood tall, buds and flowers a defiant bouquet to the traffic streaming past at 40 miles per hour.
Though I sigh when I see them multiplying in my lawn, I have a soft spot for dandelions. It’s the flower of childhood, the only flower the adults let you pick with abandon.
I have sunny memories of picking dandelions in the back lot and pasture. One year, I remember a friend swore that the dandelion had the power to tell something about you.
“Rub it under your chin,” she said. “If it turns yellow, that means you like butter.” I rubbed away and the flower read my mind. I did like butter. Who doesn’t, especially in a time when most of the adults still believed that margarine was better? It isn’t. The dandelion knows this, because in the years that followed, every friend who took this pollen-hued test had the same results – a yellow chin.
We also picked dandelions for the sheer fun of snapping their heads off. If you hold the stem tight at the base of the flower, then flick your thumb hard, the top goes tumbling or flying. We’d have a floral war or compare how far we could send the heads sailing.
Soon the lawn was littered with yellow carnage but there were always more flowers to pick.
The fullest dandelions with the longest stems we plucked for our mothers. When I offered mine a fistful of blooms she’d smile, then fill a small vase with water so she could display the bouquet on the kitchen window sill. They always wilted within hours but if I wanted, I could refill it each day with new blooms.
By some miracle of perseverance and pluck, enough dandelions survived for a different kind of floral fun. The flower’s beauty morphs, its yellow blooms becoming white seeds the way white hair replaces deeper hues as we age.
We’d pick with care, to avoid disturbing the orb of seeds that hung precariously, ready to take flight at the slightest bump or breeze. Then we’d close our eyes, make a wish, then blow. A steady, strong stream of breath, we discovered, spread the seeds the farthest. The farther they flew the better the odds your wish would come true.
From the first time they poke their heads through the soil, lawn, cracks and crevices, dandelions show children that life can be conquered. With their heads held high, they show you can grow anywhere. They don’t let a concrete island hold them back. They don’t wallow in a lack of water, fertilizer or even sun. They bloom anyway. And when they’re done, they carry your wish on the wind and whisper that if you keep trying you can make it come true.
While the flowery weed is beloved by children, by adulthood most people develop an animosity toward its rebellious tenacity.
Instead of staying in its place in the pasture, the dandelion presumes to elbow its way into manicured flower beds, a flagrant display against classier flowers that need fertilizer, and just the right amount of water, sun and space.
The dandelion intrudes, like an uninvited against at a lawn-only party. It doesn’t mind the rules, no matter how much poison is poured on its head.
Yes, it’s impolite and brazen. It’s selfish and insists on showing up where it isn’t wanted. In the plant world the dandelion is always fighting for a spot, waving yellow heads wherever it can, anxious for any attention.
The children understand.