Beginning around April Fools’ Day—an appropriate mark on the calendar, given my mission—I decided to rid my daughter’s lawn of dandelion flowers and the subsequent powder-puff balls. They were everywhere after I first cut the grass, bright yellow flowers and tufts of white seeds ready to be borne by the wind to breed more dandelions, and I’d had enough. My daughter and her husband are readying their house for possible sale, and a yard prickled with these pests might leave prospective buyers shaking their heads before they’d even set foot in the house.
From the very first day, I realized the difficulty of this fight. The yard consists of about an acre of grass, and I lacked the tools, the time, and the energy to dig these nuisances up by the roots. Besides, a yard marred by patches of raw dirt would look as bad, or worse, than the dandelions.
For the first week, I clipped the puffballs with a pair of scissors, stuffed them into a plastic bag, and tossed the plucked yellow heads of the dandelions on the grass. By the second week, the puffballs were no more, but the blooming dandelions remained as prolific as those mythological warriors who sprang from dragons’ teeth sown in the earth. Except for days of heavy rain or when I mowed the lawn, mornings and evenings found me shambling around the grounds, bending and plucking, bending and plucking.
These adversaries surprised me by their rapid growth and their ubiquity. Take down 30 or 40 of these guys in mid-morning, rub your hands together with satisfaction, come back again in the late evening, and another dozen have leaped up to take their place. Even as I write these words, I can look through the front window of this house and see three of these intruders who slipped back into action after my morning patrol. And these hardy little soldiers pop up in all kinds of soil, not just the fecund dirt of the yard, but in the cracked asphalt along the drive and a hard-as-stone patch of earth in the back of the house.
Resolution, Action, and Habit
Recently, I realized that my war with these hostiles had taught me several valuable lessons. Here are some of them.
Resolution and action. As noted in my Jan. 2 Epoch Times article, “Project Appreciation,” I am not the best at keeping resolutions. I have stuck to the ones as described in the article, but otherwise such resolutions rarely click with me. I’ve even broken New Year’s and Lenten resolutions on the very day I’ve made them.
The dandelion resolution I have kept. And keeping and putting into action resolutions leads us to another lesson.
Habit. “We are then what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Though usually attributed to Aristotle, this quote probably derives instead from a summation of Aristotle’s thoughts on this subject in Will Durant’s “The Story of Philosophy.”
After two months, picking dandelions has become a habit. I don’t think about the task, but instead simply slip on my grubby shoes meant for yard work and wander the lawn extracting blossoms. That task, which usually takes less than 15 minutes—I have developed a keen eye for the enemy—is as much a part of my day as the first cup of coffee or strolling to the mailbox.
I wish I could amend some of my bad habits as easily as I acquired the habit of picking dandelions.
An Antidote to Lunacy
Satisfaction and control. When this crazy old world becomes even more mad than normal, as it has this spring with a virus sent us compliments of the Chinese Communist Party and now riots in American cities, simple tasks and easy pleasures may offset the depression brought on by larger crises. When I sit on the front porch or the deck of this house in the evenings, the broad, dandelion-free lawn brings pleasure to the eye. I’ll sip a drink, and at least for a few moments, feel as if all’s right with the one acre of the world in which I play gardener and groundskeeper.
In “12 Rules for Life,” Jordan Peterson titles one of those rules: “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.” That “perfect order” admonition may be impossible, but my dandelion war did make me think harder about a question: What if all of us tried to brighten the corner right where we are instead of changing the world? What if we worked harder to improve our lives, our relationships, our homes and property rather than using energy, most often wasted, debating events over which we have no control?
I have written articles about politics and pandemics, and may even offer a few insights into understanding these broad issues, but right now I have far more control over the dandelions.
Battles Lost and Won
Winning the battles. For most of us, every day is a battle of some kind. We scrabble to make a living, we try to breathe life into relationships with a spouse, our children, or our friends, we face decisions that offer no clear path, no obvious right or wrong consequences.
Sometimes the battles we can win, clear-cut conflicts that don’t baffle us or leave us wondering about right and wrong, can ease our minds. We enter the fray without self-doubt or gnawing questions, and complete our task.
Thank you, dandelions.
Losing the war. I will win the dandelion battles, but someday the dandelions, no matter how many I pull, will win the war. Despite the hundreds of flowers I have yanked from the ground and tossed aside, the dandelions will keep on growing. And someday I, too, will be yanked from life and tossed aside, buried in the earth and “pushing up daisies” as the saying goes—or in my case, pushing up dandelions.
Death is one of nature’s realities. The dandelions help me remember that truth.
It’s 7 p.m. as I write these words, a beautiful evening in Virginia with light winds and a pale sunshine. The kids in this neighborhood are buzzing up and down the street on their ATVs, scooters, and bikes, the birds that provide the morning symphony have mostly gone quiet, and the sky is a sea of blue flecked by the spume of white and gray cumulus clouds.
Time to pick some dandelions.
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C., Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.