If childhood had a flower all its own, I think it would be the dandelion. From the first time we’re plopped down onto a blanket on the lawn one happy spring day, dandelions appear at just the right height and brightness for a young, curious gaze. They nod and dance for us, invite us to touch and play, looking like a thousand round golden faces wearing lions’ manes and green scarves.
My first memory of dandelions was as a grand yet intimate surprise. I could barely scramble around the backyard on my own; and there they were: plentiful, beautiful, bright, and mine for the gathering with no one to tell me “no.” I picked one after another after another, intrigued by the milk-juice that ran out of their stems, making my fingers sticky and warm. They were a bouquet for my mother – presented with joyful innocence, accepted with appropriate grace, carefully placed in a small juice glass to sit on the kitchen windowsill above the sink. I never noticed that they lasted no more than a day. And each new day’s bouquet was gathered and greeting with equal delight. And no one ever tried to rid the lawn of their free-range residency. As the season aged, and when the dandelions became transparent puffs of seeds, I was taught to make a wish and blow them into the wind – and they became magic.
Over the years since, I have come to appreciate the authentic value of dandelions and their place in the natural order of things. Beyond their simple beauty and source for childhood delight, they are food for bees and butterflies, fireflies and grasshoppers; they are treats for horses and deer and field mice and rabbits and all manner of insects.
They are good for humans, as well: dandelion wine and salad greens, teas and tonics, healing potions for our insides as well as our skins. From roots to stems to leaves to blossoms to seeds, every bit of the dandelion has purpose and possibility.
I’ve discovered that there is a surprising amount written about this wild little flowering plant, with its messy hair and rowdy street smarts. There are songs and poems and recipes, fanciful myths and scientific descriptions, symbolism and metaphors and synonyms. One writer made the particularly compelling observation that each dandelion blossom has within it the image of both sun and moon – changing from one’s golden yellow to the other’s transparent white in its single short lifetime.
Even now, as we are sliding well into autumn’s abundant beauty, I catch myself still looking for dandelions and their celestial-like forms. Even though I know the last of them has long ago drifted beyond the gate and gone underground. I also still ponder their lessons – comparing the similarities between their ways and our human lives – or how well served we humans might be if we lived more like dandelions.
We are, to begin with, all born beautiful and bright. We all have the ability and opportunity to be useful and nourishing to others – with every aspect of our being. And perhaps, like dandelions, we should waste nothing, withhold nothing of ourselves in doing so.
Perhaps, like dandelions, we can and do survive against all odds and circumstances. We are both loved and unloved, with equal passion and apparently random discrimination. Perhaps, like dandelions, we should encourage more spontaneous joy, and appreciate the importance of being claimed by children and found charming by butterflies, and pop up in impossible places.
And when our heads turn grey and white, perhaps we are meant to simply embrace the opportunity of becoming all the better suited for being trusted with secret wishes and the dispersement of precious seeds; for evolving into the next generation, releasing life experience and wisdom and pieces of ourselves – to be carried on the breath of wind and by chance encounters with those who have touched us – as we spend out last small and great gifts on whole new populations of brilliant suns and enchanting moons and irrepressible beauty.
If childhood had a flower all it’s own, I believe it would be the dandelion. Perhaps if age had a flower, it would be the dandelion as well.