I wonder sometimes about the flag people. Not the ones who hang out the American or Confederate flags — though I wonder about them sometimes too — but the ones whose flags signal more personal allegiances: flowers, or songbirds, or autumn leaves. I don’t think they’re making a political statement, though I suppose it’s possible. It’s not a hippie thing. The only statement I think they’re making is, “Yay spring!” or “Yay autumn!” as the case may be.
I can’t see myself ever following suit — it’s not really my style, and besides, if I hung out a flag, it couldn’t not make a statement. I’m the kind of anarchist who would sooner burn a black flag then follow it, so that option’s out. But I think I know what I would put on a flag, should I ever get the urge to drape one off my porch: a dandelion.
Every spring when I was a kid, we gathered dandelion greens from the lawn. For a week or two before the flower stalks appeared, their bitterness was still bearable, even pleasant, as long as they were boiled with bits of bacon and dressed with salt and vinegar. We’d go out picking after a rain so we wouldn’t have to clean them much. It was work to separate out all the tiny blades of grass, but the novelty of gathering food from the lawn never wore off.
Years later, a Swedish naturalist came to visit, a man who specialized in dandelion taxonomy, among other things. Our common birds filled him with delight; he got a look of utter transport every time an American robin sang. And he kept falling to his knees at unexpected junctures, because the dandelions were in bloom. Where we saw constellations of familiar suns, he kept finding brand new genotypes.
Once when I was drunk on dandelion wine at a raucous party in a house where I had lived the year before, a giant of an ex-marine grabbed me by the throat and threw me against the wall. My glasses flew off. All that giddy gold in my veins flash-froze. A friend came over and won my release with a tap on the giant’s shoulder and an ear-splitting grin, but by then I was sober, and the house had ceased to resemble any home I knew.
A few hours later, I ran into some people from the party. Why hadn’t I raised a finger in self-defense, they wanted to know, and all I could say was, it wasn’t in me. I had felt too good; every muscle had been relaxed. When dandelions get good and pollinated, they fall prostrate among the grass: lawnmowers won’t touch them, except on the lowest setting. And by the time they straighten up again, they’re ready for whatever might come their way. Their newly spherical heads have the power to transform blows into catalysts of wonder and delight — not to mention regeneration.
On second thought, who needs a flag? Maybe I should design a personal coat of arms.