My daughter and I stopped at the gas station yesterday for some Sunday afternoon treats. As she ran in, I sat in the car idly considering the strip of shaded yard behind the white concrete building. What else do you do waiting in a gas station parking lot but look around? It was a ‘nothing’ sort of space, a narrow fenced grassy stretch spiked with dandelions, stretching their heads toward the April sun. It seemed out of place beside the industrial asphalt, gas and air pumps; a space used only by relieved station attendants, escaping for a quick, mid shift smoke.
As I continued to stare and wonder about the oddly placed yard, it suddenly transformed, in that strange way where two realities merge into one. I was transported to my parent’s home on Lanark street in the early 60’s, to about four years old. From the wooden steps of our back door, past the blue rigid sided pool, stretching to the wildest edges of the back fence, my brother and I were monarchs of our childhood kingdom. The grass there was also spiked with sunny yellow faces and fluffy heads of spent dandelions, poised to send their magic seeds into the wind. We’d pluck them by their milky stalks, gathering them into bright bouquets, presenting them to our mom. She’d accept each bouquet as a treasured gift, displaying them in kitchen glasses until we’d forgotten about them. Even then, I somehow knew that dandelions were not roses.
I don’t often consider dandelions, except to bemoan their rapid reappearance on my own freshly cut lawn. Why is a dandelion considered a weed, anyways? Is it a lesser flower than a rose? A dandelion is magnificent in botanical analysis. Each spiky ‘petal’ of a dandelion is a flower in and of itself, collected into a composite flower head. Upon maturity, each floret transforms into a seed pod becoming part of a blowball. Anchored by wispy filament, the seed pod is able to parachute from the blowball, ensuring colonization of itself.
The milky substance found in the stem of a dandelion is natural latex. In Germany, Continental Tires is currently cultivating dandelion latex, piloting a line a dandelion tires, set to be tested on highways. And let’s also remember dandelion wine, and that dandelion is an ingredient in root beer (‘root’ beer as in a beverage derived from roots, who knew?) and the dandelion’s edible, medicinal and pharmacological properties. And that’s only the beginning. You can deepen this magic via a quick wiki search of Taraxacum.
I’ve been reading Annie Dillard’s ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’ for months. I’ve been equally absorbed and unable to bear any more ‘beauty tangled in rapture with violence‘ as Dillard recollects her year spent living in Virginia’s Roanocke Valley. I can only describe Dillard’s writing as reminiscent of a 1970’s acid trip, the kind where you stare in wonder at the previously undiscovered complexity, beauty and grisly dirtiness of the lines on the your palm of your hand. Tinker Creek explores pond slime and discarded snake skin, the luminescent segments of the back of a grasshopper, the roar of water off the slated mountains, the layers of life hidden in one square foot of soil beneath a sycamore tree, the rush of time that comes toward us as waves and passes by us as particles. I’m boggled, enraptured then overcome. I read a chapter or so, then hide the book away in a box, attempting to contain the unleashed power of its narrative, wishing I could write with half the drama and astonishment. But I’m not sure I could even bear to look so deeply at the world, for fear of falling forever down the rabbit hole.
I’ve been taking a course in academic writing this semester. I thought at the beginning, that my general writing experience would translate easily into academic writing. I was woefully wrong. Academic writing is as different from blogging or creative writing as geometry is from free handing simple shapes. I’m out of my element, frustrated by the imposition of form, tradition, genre, lens and protocol. But I’ve been reminded as a result, of the lens from which we approach a question or topic. And how it shapes our investigations and conclusions.
My mother in law visited this weekend. At 84, she’s a still a gale force. Her lens is education, engagement and achievement; values she’s impressed upon generations of family. Others I’m close to view life through the evangelical lens, one they believe, encompasses all others. As for my lens, it’s kaleidoscopic. Arbitrary bits of inspiration and information collide into each other daily. I can quite effortlessly weave together gas stations, childhood memories, latex tires, root beer, great books and academic writing courses in eight short paragraphs with no introduction, thesis, supporting evidence or conclusion. This is a rather under appreciated skill, especially in my writing class.
Let me leave you with a link to Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which I suppose is the point of this ramble anyways. If you find something noteworthy in the text, let me know. Perhaps we can discover some dandelions together.