Letting the Dandelions Grow

When we first purchased our updated farmhouse in the foothills, the yard was a disaster. Having sat on the market for quite some time with no one in the house to see to its upkeep, much of the acreage had reverted to sagebrush and knotweed. Only one small patch of grass remained beneath the struggling apple and plum trees in the triangular front yard. You may question our logic but after seven years on a stifling suburban lot, we were over the moon with the prospect of transforming this neglected property into something spectacular.

That first year couldn't have been more rewarding. We purchased hose and shrubs and a stable lawn tractor. I became an avid gardener, growing everything from seed and soliciting oohs and ahhs from people who'd "never seen anyone have that much luck with tomatoes before! Wow!" That small patch of grass grew to encompass an acre, surrounding the house with a luxurious blanket of green in an area that rarely saw enough rain to keep the mountains from shriveling in on themselves.

All of that changed when I fell ill the following year.

Not in the gee, it's the flu again sense of the word, but rather in the dragging your family to the emergency room at two in the morning because the pain scares you that much sense of the word. Months of uncertainty and testing and pointless medication would later reveal that my guts had flat stopped doing the job of digestion, leaving me with massive inflammation and infection throughout my esophagus and upper stomach. It was a year of constant discomfort. Nausea to pain to immobility and back again. Overtaken by my own weakness, my struggles with agoraphobia intensified until I wasn't leaving the house, even on the days when the discomfort was minimal enough to allow it. My husband's fourteen-hour workdays left him unable to care for both a sick wife and an ailing yard. So our green oasis faded until it was anything but. The shrubs died. The grass grew sparse. The few tomatoes I'd transferred to my once-loved garden were so quickly scorched and shriveled that I lost the will to even attempt to care for them. But the worst was the dandelions.

In our old suburban neighborhood, dandelions had not been tolerated. A dandelion was a badge of shame, the surest sign that the homeowner couldn't be bothered to care for their lawn with the proper chemicals and twice-a-day mowing that one expects from a dignified and decent conformist. Upon seeing just one, neighbors would walk by and shake their heads, even slowing in their cars as they passed to subtly notify the homeowner of their disapproval. Armed with this backlog of judgment, where every unfinished chore on our new homestead was a screaming reminder of my uselessness, it was the dandelion takeover that really twisted the blade of disgrace.

How small and helpless I became. How ineffective. I was a burden, incapable of contributing or controlling any part of my life. And damn those weeds for reminding me of that.

One day, as I was returning from dropping off my boy at the school bus stop, four miles down the road, I found myself halting in the middle of our long driveway, astonished to see that our unkempt yard had become a moving sea of yellow. For a moment, I wondered whether those blasted dandelions had multiplied and mutated into spastic dance choreographers, but no. Our yard was covered -- absolutely covered -- in goldfinches.

Dozens upon dozens of them. Golden feathers glowing in the sunrise, they gobbled up the dandelion seeds and chirped one to another as if coordinating a symphony. I turned off the car and watched them flit about the work of cleaning the yard that I could no longer tend on my own. Tears filled my eyes. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. Had I been robbing myself of this all these years? In a rush to control, to tidy nature's corners into what I'd foolishly thought to be dignified and decent, had I been keeping its most beautiful offerings at bay?

They stayed for nearly a week, those gorgeous angels of nature. And they left when the dandelions did. I was sad to see them go, but grateful for the work they had done. More than that, I was grateful for the lesson that maybe, just maybe, burdensome-ness isn't such a concrete thing. Maybe dignity is in the eye of the beholder. It was a lesson that was driven home again in the fall, when my inability to clear the fallen apples from the ground drew a herd of deer onto our property. Once again, nature took care of itself, gracefully and without any help at all from me.

Actual photo from our front yard.

Though I've now found a fantastic doctor and am healthy enough to attack the yardwork with all the vigor I ever had, I make it a point to leave the dandelions alone. And when the apples come down in the fall, I let them lie as well. Because it took falling ill with uselessness to realize something that my desperate need for potency wouldn't let me see.

Sometimes in life, the weeds serve a purpose. Sometimes the rotten apples aren't so rotten after all. 

And sometimes, the silver linings even come with wings.

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Leave ye scrawlins 'ere, but mind that ye treat one another wi' decency, yeah?