I shared this “dandelion”* photo on Facebook a few years back as part of an impromptu Earth Day post. Soon after, a friend questioned its appropriateness.
“Really?!!! A dandelion on Earth Day? Think about all the chemicals people pump onto their lawns trying to get rid of these things…”
This reaction caught me off guard. I’d chosen the image because I felt it portrayed a certain beauty and fragility emblematic of our natural world; and under the working title “Make a Wish…” I thought of it as a symbol of hope for a more sustainable future. I honestly hadn’t considered the extensive environmental damage caused by efforts to control what so many people consider a noxious weed. In my friends defense he wasn’t advocating these practices, but instead reminding me of this attitude and what results. And he had a point. Each year the mere sight of dandelions contributes to millions of gallons of herbicide being unleashed on the environment.
I’ve thought of this often in the years since, and have come to the conclusion that this actually IS a really good Earth Day image. Not just for the reasons I stated above, but for what my friend alluded to as well. Dandelions are actually extremely beneficial plants. They are edible and contain high nutritional value, and also contribute to soil health through nitrogen fixation. Yet most people fail to see this. Instead, they’ve been told that these are wretched weeds- something that cannot be allowed in a responsible homeowners lawn. Thus we must take any and all measures to eradicate them.
Because somebody said so? As children most of us loved dandelions. They emerged on those warm spring days when after a long winter we could finally run outside to play without need for jacket, hat and gloves. We smeared the yellow flowers on our faces, blew the seeds and watched with innocent wonder as they drifted off on the wind. But as we grew old, our attitudes were expected to change. Nature became something to be marginalized and controlled. Flowers were for window boxes and designated gardens, but shouldn’t dare emerge in our well-manicured lawns. Reasoning and truth and childhood sentiment didn’t matter. That’s just the way it was.
So much of what we do, so many social norms, come as a result of following blindly. An appliance quits working we send it to the landfill. That’s just the way things work. The same fate comes for clothes we no longer wear or toys our kids no longer play with. It’s just the way things are handled. We need a gallon of milk we drive two blocks to the grocery store, that’s just how things are done. Our work places are left to sit vacant overnight but still suck power for security lights, printers, microwaves and coffee makers on the ready. That’s just the way it goes. We get thirsty we buy a bottle of water. That’s just the way it is.
The way it is has got to change. Acknowledge it or not the way it is, the way we are living, has got us into a heap of trouble and it’s going to take a drastic and immediate shift in attitude to get ourselves out. It’s not about saving the Earth. The Earth will be just fine. This is a matter of respect and appreciating the opportunity we have to live here; and giving our children and grandchildren so much as a fighting chance to do the same.
This Earth Day, please take a moment and think about the world you wish to leave for future generations, reflect on your own daily choices and make the necessary changes to bring about a better end.
Iowa-based writer Catherine Haustein recently wrote an excellent piece celebrating the value of dandelions, and used this photo on her blog. Check that out here.
*I try to make it a point to acknowledge that this photo is not of a true dandelion. It’s actually a plant called goats beard, which looks almost identical only a bit larger. Sometimes the impression a photo gives and the emotion it stirs is all that really matters, so I call this one “Make a Wish…” and leave it at that.