This year I’ve decided to try something different. I’m going to go outside. You might think everyone from the prairies was raised in the outdoors — cross-country skiing and skating on ponds in the winter, gardening, camping at the lake (is there only one?) in the summer — but you would be wrong.
I do not come from a tradition of the great outdoors. For my mother, being stuck in the house was not seen as a bad thing. Dad sometimes tried to convince Mom to walk around the block for some fresh air. When that wouldn’t work, he’d suggest going to the end of the street, and then halfway down, to the lamppost. When that was dismissed, he would suggest in his droll way that she go to the end of the driveway.
Over my lifetime I have worked to overcome an indoor mindset, and I do well where exercise is concerned (except it’s usually on a treadmill), but after this past winter of being inside more than usual, I had become restless.
Since spring has arrived in the guise of summer heat, dandelions have threatened to take over the plot of dirt that was left when some overgrown cedars were removed last fall. Hoping I had a latent call to be a gardener, I decided to go out and pull them, quickly realizing you don’t pull dandelions. At first it was enjoyable to hear a satisfying rip when I gave the plant a tug, until it was clear I was leaving most of the hearty root in the ground where it would certainly propagate as soon as I was out of sight.
You have to admire the tenacity of a dandelion. Two small, flat leaves can lie overtop the dirt in a most surreptitious manner, yet those two leaves will have a tiny bud between them — barely discernable if you don’t have your reading glasses on — and if you leave it, by tomorrow there will be a sunny yellow head smiling for all the neighbours to see. Dandelions grow by the edge of the sidewalk, making them even harder to dig out, or they hide within the burgeoning irises and lilies, hoping you won’t notice until they are old enough to spew their parachute seeds to yards near and far.
And I didn’t know they were a haven for ladybugs. When I dug around a rather bushy dandelion with my little spade and pulled it up, there, emerging like molten lava, were hundreds of red ladybugs who lifted off into my face, settling into the creases of my collar and jeans. A few interlopers were escorted out of the house later that evening. After what seemed an eternity of weeding I decided I’d had enough of this outdoor endeavour. As my neighbour said as he watched me struggle, “that’s what poison is for.” A large bumblebee who cruised past begged to differ.
Weeding dandelions reminded me of a recent episode of Call the Midwife. Eccentric elderly Sister Monica Joan was attempting to re-plant a pile of dandelions someone else had dug out. One of the young midwives gently told her they were weeds, but Sister Monica Joan was adamant: “I do not believe in weeds. Look at that glorious colour. A weed is simply a flower that someone has decided is in the wrong place. Why should the taraxacum struggle in the cracks? It deserves an efficacious spot in which to flourish.” Sister Monica Joan is my role model.
Biking is a more enjoyable outdoor activity than weeding, and it gets me to the country. Or at least as close to the country as I want to be, which is 5th Ave. by the railway tracks. There is a small slough where old cattails stand with heads that look like fluffy popcorn on tall sticks. This little oasis is filled with red-winged blackbirds who practice their trills like they’re rehearsing Mozart. They can’t be related to the blackbirds that hang out on my street. Dad always said nobody had ever taught those birds to sing — the ones that click and squeak and mostly make rude noises. I found out they’re actually grackles, which seems the perfect name for something that obnoxious. Having said that, I feel some remorse. Even grackles must have some redeeming features.
Fifth Ave. is prone to noisy traffic in the daytime so this evening I biked over to see if I could hear a free concert. The frogs were so loud it sounded like full-blown applause. Some ducks gabbled and the red-winged blackbirds did not disappoint. But the encore I did not expect was a sound from my childhood. When I was a kid we lived near the school’s football field and every morning in the summertime, for years, I would wake to the sound of a meadowlark calling from the top of the goalposts. To hear a meadowlark is rare now, but there it was, distant but gloriously unmistakable.
The cacophonous concert faded into the dimming sky and I turned to head for home. Now the street was quiet and I pedalled almost silently when I saw a slight movement to my right. Just across a small muddy ditch only a few feet from me was a deer almost perfectly camouflaged in the brown grass. I stopped carefully so as not to startle her. Her large, dark eyes met mine and we held each other’s gaze for a few moments before she turned and bounded back to the cover of the taller grass.
We all hope to flourish, as dandelions do in May, but often find ourselves slumping into acedia, a sense of spiritual stagnation. The antidote is within, if only we are willing to enter God’s world one breath at a time and, rather than acquiesce to someone else’s notion of what is good for us, to pay attention to what delights our soul.I love my new bike and my close encounter with the deer was a numinous vision, but I’ll never be interested in camping. And the dandelions are starting to line up against the sidewalk like a deliberate border of yellow — almost as if I’d planted a bunch of chrysanthemums. I saw a gigantic bumblebee in one of them. If she is happy in the taraxacum, who am I to interfere?