Spring, when it finally arrived, brought a speedy return of an annual hobby; hunting the dandelion. Though immobile, dandelions are sneaky. Harvesting an entire dandelion herd (explosion would be a better term based on the way a single seed head explodes into future generations) calls on a range of track, hunt, and kill skills that so taxes most would-be hunter they turn to use of chemical kill aids. I understand the desire for a one-pass solution. Like carpet bombing the tactic wipes out waves of enemies at a single swoop, But while there can be some “art” in careful deployment of spreader patterns the practice lacks the pure satisfaction of an old fashioned dandelion hunt with a traditional wood handled, forked tongue digger tool. Plunge THAT to the hilt and wrench the soil! “Ahh, got you this time little devil!”

If only it was that easy. But, it is not. You see, the crafty “lion” knows to delve its root in places that frustrate the best of diggers. If there is one wee gap between dozens of close-packed subsurface rocks the dandelion root will hide there, laughing as your digger tip bites granite or gabbro. At times rock removal is necessary. Though there will be a hole to fill afterward the satisfaction of having the entire root in hand is worthy payment as even the most robust dandelion wilts dramatically in surrender almost as soon as it is exposed full length. I’ve followed roots corkscrewing down around clusters of stone. Believe me, there are few satisfactions greater than a clean lion kill after a long pursuit. I could claim preference for old ways as a nonpolluting environmentally friendly way of dandelion removal (I believe that like some “weed” grasses the dandelion is an invader brought from across the Atlantic). While I’m glad of not putting poisons in the soil what I’m really proud of is an annual kill ratio of ninety plus percent.

Though diligent daily manual eradication can be markedly effective leaving even a bit of root is enough to spur an eruption the following summer. And of course when a lion head explodes many miles away its missiles will zero in on any dandelion free zone like fast food eateries aimed at capturing ripe new neighborhoods to “serve.” As a devoted hunter of the species I appreciate how some lions poke up tall and robust while others lurk low and sneaky with the yellow head far to one side of the main body. They are sneaky and clever. I can scour a patch of grass at 10:00 and yet find a yellow pop-up at 2:00. I’ve often worked an area and thought it clean until from nowhere a half dozen leaf spreads appear amid the pushed aside grasses. Not that any person needs to do so, but you do learn things dandelion killing the old fashioned way that you simply cannot observe and study while trotting behind a herbicide spreader.

When I was young we had wonderful killer aids. There was a waxy weed bar that tied behind the mower and spread poison as you mowed. Who’d not (especially a boy not in love with yard work) appreciate the efficiency. At the time who (especially not a kid hell bent on getting a chore done) worry at the double whammy of mower fumes blasting face ward mixing with weed bar elements? My worries were few. I wanted to get the grass done quickly so I could go do something else. My dilemma was between mowing barefoot or with sneakers that would take on a near permanent puke-green stain if worn. Gas mowers and bare toes were a definite no-no, but I frankly saw little difference in foot protection wearing sneakers. Sure that feet could be cleansed more easily than green stained sneakers I’d risk it and at the same time get a long dose of toxins direct through tender moist skin. This could explain why I’d sometimes leap up and run my head into a wall, but I know of no other consequences.

Also common when I was young was the long handled dandelion digger that allowed a standing attack but still required the final zoom in on bended knee to rip the prize from the grip of earth. I’ve not seen one of those for some time, but I know we had one. I recall it well from the afternoon I used it and was stopped in conversation with a friend when I casually bore down on it before realizing the digger tip was resting on the top of my foot. The loud and lively dance I broke into was much appreciated by my companion and several neighbors who laughingly reminded me of it for years afterward. That was kind of them, I suppose. My experience aside, I wondered why the long digger became scarce and decided the short version was the one in demand for uprooting dandelions in the close work of gardening. The veggie gardener does not want herbicide mixed with the organic pea or use it where it might impair the amazing fecundity of the zucchini. Knowing their devious ill will I’m sure any dandelion worth even a fraction of its golden yellow mane would not hesitate to take petunias and pansies with it to their mutual final reward.

Annual tasks can be seen as a chore or review. It’s our choice. Yearly returning to the dandelion hunt, part of my review recalls the neighbor’s amusement at my exotic dance, a thing I can now smile about. With Memorial Day nearing the dandelion task is also a timely reminder that the green lawn of freedom and liberty was hard won and needs regular attention. Spreading by root and seed, invaders will take over, replacing the soft underfoot grass with rank weed. A single dandelion left to spread becomes a multitude. As with freedom, the cost of picnic grass is its rigorous defense. Much as I’d prefer something easier, the task of stalking dandelions is preferable to surrender. In life or lawn care our duty is defend the grass, not the weed.