This morning here in Corrales, New Mexico, a small flock of lesser goldfinches feed on the Maximillian Sunflower seed heads growing on their giant stalks in my front yard. And so blows a blogseed northward to another one of my talismanic moments on the Klondike guiding trail.
May 20th 2015, I pulled over at Tutshi High… a place to get a spectacular view of the 20+ mile long glacially carved Tutshi Lake. My guests that day were all physicians from Thailand. As always the far scenery evoked appreciative utterances, cameras clicked and I took lots of group pictures. Then a woman noticed something closer to her feet. “What flower is that? It’s beautiful!” She was looking at a dandelion. Apparently dandelions don’t grow in Thailand, because none of the other 20 or so folks had ever seen one either. Good thing I didn’t say, “just a dandelion,” because what is so common to me was a source of wonder to all. It occurred to me then that lacking familiarity with the flower, it was likely that no one there knew about making wishes on the seeds. So I demonstrated. I’ll just say this. I had to skip the next stop because these doctors became kids again right before my eyes, and it took considerable time to pry them away from their delight. Wishes flew on the wind!
Just a dandelion, just a crow, just a seagull?
Now, no one ever says just a bear. Every time we’d encounter a bear, the bus became electrified. I’ll write about bear encounters in another post, but at this point it bears mentioning that dandelions are a favorite food of ursus major and ursus in the early spring, and grew in profusion by the side of the road. If you consult the herbal books you’ll read that dandelions are a strong diuretic. There’s speculation that a dandelion diet helps jumpstart the bears urinary system after their long winters sleep. (No more dandelion wine for me before bed).
So here we were, still in May, the snow not that long gone, and already making wishes on the spent dandelion flowers. How quickly from blossom to seed I thought. And that’s when I first thought of holding my sex education seminar as part of my Klondike tour. And what better group to initiate it with then a group of the doctors!
Before I even began, I swore the group to secrecy. Don’t let my boss know that I’m teaching sex-ed here on tour. (Okay boss… now you know.)
I began in the spirit of the Socratic method… asking questions.
“Do northern species or more southerly species of birds have longer incubation periods?
“ What do you think? Do birds up north or birds down south, once hatched take more time to fledge (grow their feathers)?
“What about time from germination to flowering and seed producing with plants? Do you think that northern or southern species go from sprout, to flower to seed more quickly?”
Fairly quickly, the consensus came around to the conclusion that life cycles in the north were probably accelerated because of the short summer season. ( Two seasons in Alaska as the joke goes….winter and the 4th of July.)
That’s when I pointed out that all these questions were fundamentally about sex. The need to reproduce and ensure the continuity of future generations.
“ What about humans then?” joked one of the quicker wits. “ Do kids in Skagway grow up faster?”
What I was really getting at though (shtick aside) was the palpable feeling of the great urgency of life that one feels in the north. To me it has always seemed that life fairly buzzes at a higher frequency. The long daylight hours undoubtedly add to the effect.
“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
So now, reflecting on Dandelion Day as I have come to call it, I conclude that
I would rather be ‘just a dandelion’ rather than an exotic orchid, so that flying on the wind and on the breath of children and grownups , I could be a hundred wishes, planting myself in the soil of wonder and love for our common earth, North, South, East and West.
coda: A few hours after I posted this, my great friend Mike Seliger replied with a poem he wrote this spring. Here it is…
I open the Book of Wildflowers, randomly,
And there on page one hundred three,
My much maligned friend,
The ubiquitous Dandelion,
Scourge of lawn perfectionists,
But Friend of Lovers of Yellow Intruders
In the middle of shades of green…
“I am everywhere,” she says.
“Attend to me, and I can be
A Helpful Friend and Ally…”
The book calls her Common,.
But acknowledges her Power
As a wild universal Healer.
Every part of the plant Useful—
Root Potions for Healing the Liver,
Vitamin-rich Leaves for Salads,
Yellow Flowers good for Dreaming
And also for making Wine…
Seeds that feed the birds
While the Seed Puffs soar skyward
Dancing on Winds and Waving
To small children, calling
“Chase me, Follow me, catch me!
–and when you finally learn
How to Hold your Hands in Stillness
So I can be caught and held,
Your Breath, like the Wind,
Can send me skyward again…”
The Book shows, in yellow,
The parts of these United States
Where this “Common Weed” is found.
Yellow fills the entire Map…
—Mike Seliger, 4/23 15