Friday, May 22, 2009

In Praise Of The Lowly Dandelion and Child Labour

It may have been a penny per dandelion, or was it a penny for every five dandelions? I can't remember. All I know is that when I was little, I used to earn a sharecroppers living by picking dandelions from my parents' lawn. Some would call it entrepreneurism, they would be fools. Simply put, I was a child slave.

My last name is Varty, not Gifford, in case any of you think Kathie Lee is my mom/boss. Not all sweat shops operate in Bangladesh, some are right at home in our own backyards. You know that neighbour with the perfect lawn? Take a peek over the fence after school lets out...bring a camera so you can document the atrocities. It'll simplify the prosecution, when Child Welfare intervenes, if we have proof.

When I say that I picked dandelions, don't for one second conjure up images of Ian of Green Gables, out in the back meadow picking posies of wildflowers. I was on my hands and knees using a special tool to dig up the carrot-like roots of the evil aster, plus we didn't have gables on our house. My task master, aka Dad, would oversee the operation from a watchtower. Actually, there wasn't a watchtower, dad just seemed to loom large from above. My brothers and I would toil in the shadow of father. Dad was a good boss, very congenial, but the wages he offered were sub-standard and bordered on being illegal, at least under sub-clause 32-104 of the Geneva Convention.

I hated dandelions as a child, though I did take the occasional delight in blowing the seeds from a mature stock onto my neighbour's property. To this day, I still take delight in that impish act. I've got a neighbour who's obsessed with his lawn. I'm convinced that he doesn't sleep at night, lest a dandelion should launch a hostile takeover of his lawn. That's not likely to happen though, as he pumps his lawn so full of herbicides that it glows in the dark. Even the dandelions on my property are wheezing from the run-off.

A lot of adults grumble about dandelions, it's a popular pastime. We're in the midst of dandelion season here in southern New Brunswick. I've heard more than a few people mutter about how dandelions are ruining their lives. Indeed, lives are shattered by the pretty yellow blossoms. It's a tragedy. As with most of life's tragedies, we look to place the blame squarely on someone's shoulders...and wallet (it's part of our North American victim's mentality). There is a dandelion culprit and wouldn't you just know it, he's a European. Forgive me for sounding like Don Cherry.

A few hundred years ago, a brilliant but devious European settler decided that it was an opportune time to introduce Taraxacum officinale to his neighbour's lawn. I imagine him standing on the diminutive balcony of his 6th story condo, disgruntled, looking down on his neighbour's yard with a chip on his shoulder and a pocket full of seeds.

I'm going to fix that Jebediah Clutterbuck once and for all!

And so the dandelion was introduced to a backyard in Boston or Philadelphia or Montreal. No one's quite sure where it started, we only know that it hasn't stopped.

I see dandelions as a positive. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When dandelions rise from the earth, grab your camera. Embrace them...they're gorgeous! The photograph above was taken at a local vineyard where dandelions were growing between the rows of grapevines. It was stunning! The dandelions will be mowed down by a tractor in a few days. It's a tragedy of a different sort. Unless a six year old is driving that tractor, then I fear that childhood unemployment might blossom into a real problem.

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