They are clever little vegetables

Harry Drabik

Cold and downright nasty as it’s been I’d not know it was early summer if not for the blast of dandelion yellow driven from earth in splendid haste. We call them weeds, but I doubt there are many northland mothers who were not gifted with a bouquet of drooping yellow flowers held tight in a hand too small, innocent, and pure to recognize a weed or be anything but intrigued by the milky sap. The appearance of dandelions tell, if nothing else, the arrival of summer even if I am out there digger-in-hand wearing gloves and parka to attack them.

The family crusade against the dandelion began when we moved to Hoyt Lakes and a brand new house set row on row with others on a plain or rocky glacial till. Dad bought a wretched little garden barrow and put boy to work moving rocks to curb for eventual removal. This joy filled labor continued until our to-be yard was six inches lower than the drive and walk. As the boy was not yet dead he was then employed in the frolic of filling the void with three inches of black dirt topped with three of sandy loam. It was “black dirt” and “sandy loam” my parents paid for so dearly while the neighbors said “muskeg” and “sand clay.” Being the boy who spent his free hours screening that black dirt I’d side with the muskeg crowd because it seemed to soil-ignorant me half the black dirt was dropped branches, roots, and small rock that had to be hauled to the curb for the rock fairy to cart away during times I was passed out from exhaustion.

Parental whip cracking ensured boy had few idle hours and that our lawn stood out in green glory next to the yards of saner neighbors not obsessed with turf or weed control. From every block in town blew seed of weed that knew with every survival instinct of their ancient lines that our yard was the primo of primo places to drop from the sky and settle in with all that loam and etc. beckoning to paradise. Parental focus on a fine lawn meant water and fertilizer enough to call for mowing every other day in order to avoid the added chore of raking clumps of wet grass spit from our spewing machine like so much undigested fodder.

I’ll get to the truth. I hated our grass with the purest passion possible in a life short as mine but with a long need to escape to grassless freedom. I was a slave to a lawn mower. Sneakers I wore pushing that brute across a plush cut field turned ugly green like a poor job of spray paint. I was, perhaps inordinately so, fond of my sneakers and of not having to walk in public looking like I’d taken up stomping green peas as a hobby. I switched to bare foot mowing whereon father quickly warned of the danger. “You’ll cut a toe off.” I didn’t see much protective benefit from a sneaker, and frankly I’d have welcomed some blood as proof of my continued and extreme suffering. In any case, green feet were more easily washed than sneakers. Rebellious to the core, I mowed barefoot wearing a smirk of defiance.

These things do get one in trouble, knowingly or not, because it was my mutiny that led to potential mutation as barefoot rebel boy dragged a thing called a “Weed Bar” over and back across every inch of grass ensuring that no plantain or dandelion would grow between my toes no matter how seldom I washed (which was quite regularly I need say). Considering the other chemical agents applied to our grass to kill the invaders zeroing in on ideal germination territory it is safe to say I was thoroughly toxified without the gummy “Weed Bar” residue hanging on like milky dandelion sap on small hands, or in this case feet. There was hardly a thing I did in that damned yard that didn’t expose me to physical and/or genetic harm. The hand push spreader threw dust that left me sneezing hours afterward. Wind always blew liquid applications back at me to afterward require a change of clothes from damp fertilizer/chemical odor to the smell of Tide. Every other day I got a chemical bath, wash, or treatment of some sort. Mother said my growing like a weed could be blamed on all the fertilizer. Thank mercy she did never mention her son’s reproductive potential at risk from repeat chemical exposure. Such things were never spoken of. Indeed, I never mentioned reproduction either, though I thought of it some when it was assumed I was doing something else. It seemed best that way.

I suppose it got into my genes to crusade against the dandelion, but long ago I gave up (not that it mattered because the damage had already been done) chemical warfare. The fork-ended digger has become my dandelion killer. People tell me it’s hopeless. Dandelions enjoy dichotomous root branching so if any little bit is left behind the plant survives to resurface. Frankly, I don’t care if that is the case. When I see a dandelion on my property I will dig it. Our conflict has gone on too long for me to stop now. When I consider the price of chemical wreckage done me, well, how can I not feel ill-disposed to the evil, invader dandelion breed? I pursue them without mercy or quarter.

I acknowledge, though, they are clever little veggies. I can prowl my yard with eyes alert and think all is clear until from seemingly nowhere one of the enemy appears; by all indication well established and deeply rooted, too. How could I have missed it all the times I’ve patrolled the grounds? Is it one that hides between rocks that defy and taunt the digger? No matter. I will uproot whatever part I can. Dandelions may be clever, but I am persistent.