Photo by Daniel Norin

Dandelions

“The Dandelion’s pallid tube / Astonishes the Grass . . .” —Emily Dickinson

WHEN THE LAST snowmelt runs down the street and spring peepers have their song, I know the promise of warmth on my skin presses near. Stars! In the grass! my son used to point and say when he toddled about our lawn, which my husband and I took as both an indictment and a delight.

As new homeowners early in our marriage, I obsessed over making our yard dandelion-free. Every dandelion clock, or white blowball about to burst and blow into the wind, was a guilt-inducing sign that I hadn’t caught them when I scoured our yard on my hands and knees days earlier, looking to pop them at the root. What kind of a homemaker would I be if our lawn weren’t trimmed and verdant, no blight spots, and especially no yellow constellations dotting our yard?

That toddler is now a tall and lanky teen with a beautiful head of curly-wild hair. We still pick the blowballs ever so carefully so as not to disturb the seeds—the achenes—with their pappi, tiny old man hairs parachuting across the yard. But I’ve relaxed a bit about lawn care. Hummingbirds, bees, and monarchs are my priority now. Here in northern Mississippi, I’ve come to appreciate the extra bits of color in my lawn, knowing my dog and kids can roll and kick around in the grass, pesticide-free.

And oh, of course the wishes! So many since I was a little girl have come true. Hold a dandie bloom under your chin, and if your skin reflects the yellow, that means your crush is thinking of you. In some circles it just means you love butter.

Best of all—I’ve come to see so much deliciousness to be had from dandelions. There is tea to be made, and wine and coffee too! Make sure you pluck the kind with tubular stems (not the solid, furry stalks) and soak the blooms in salted water to get rid of any tiny ants lurking. If you find enough yellow florets—four cups of packed petals, to be exact—you can make a jelly that rings a sweetness in your mouth a little like fresh honey. If you can only gather up eighty or so, dip them in an egg/flour/salt/pepper mix and fry them in hot oil. Dust them with a touch of paprika and cayenne and you have yourself a fine, fragrant, crunchy snack.

Dandelions openbloom their faces under the sun and fold like an umbrella at night. My son is far from the only one who called them stars here on Earth. In her poem “A Dandelion for My Mother,” Jean Nordhaus writes, “. . . slowly they turned themselves / into galaxies, domes of ghost stars / barely visible by day, pale / cerebrums clinging to life / on tough green stems.”

How many millions of school kids have held up one of those tough green stems as a game to see a little yellow on their chin? Have you? After a year of so much loss, I’m looking forward to dandelions arriving as a win.

 

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Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of four collections of poems, including, most recently, Oceanic, winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award, and two essay collections, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, and the forthcoming Bite by Bite: Nourishments and Jamborees. Other awards for her writing include fellowships and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Mississippi Arts Council, and MacDowell. Her writing appears in Poetry, the New York Times MagazineESPN, and Tin House. She serves as poetry faculty for the Writing Workshops in Greece and is professor of English and creative writing in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.

Comments

  1. Thanks for an up close and personal view of an everyday little bit of magic. Or weed. It depends on how you look at it I suppose.

  2. I love the bright yellow of the dandelions. I like them so much that one year I let them spread. Now I love picking the leaves for a green smoothie. I love the thought that they might help me be resilient like them.

  3. I love dandelions – I let them grow and flower wherever they want. Bright and cheery!

  4. I agree that a field dotted with yellow dandelion flowers is a sight to behold, as is the sight of dandelion down being carried by a breeze. However, I have found that if left to spread, their broad leaves can choke out perennial grass and leave a muddy field subject to erosion. If only they weren’t so invasive and could dot the lawn coexisting with the grasses.

  5. When I discovered the health benefits of dandelion greens, I began picking the precious spheres of life and blowing them everywhere throughout my garden. They are not in short supply and are one of my favorite visitors from the wind in my wild and wonderful garden.

  6. The late Alfred Crosby, historian and author of Ecological Imperialism (1986) wrote: The sun never sets on the empire of the dandelion. And right he was. Dandelion is found the world over. Long may it so.

  7. And the dandelion garlands that my mother braided and placed on my little Brooklyn princess head!

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