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.

10 Replies to “Flagging”

  1. I’m glad you wrote this. Where I live (the suburbs) people actually pay to have their lawns sprayed with dandelion-killing chemicals — one of the many stupidities of my “neighborhood.”

  2. They’re wonderful things, aren’t they; they seem to have so many different aspects, leaves, flowers, clocks, roots, the stems you can make into hooters of different pitches according to length and thickness, but you have to keep your tongue away from them in your mouth.

    I’ve never really been able to cope with the bitterness of the greens, and the diuretic effect was annoying – they aren’t called pissenlit for nothing – but we did make dandelion wine from the flowers one year. The bitter back taste was still there, but OK if you didn’t try drinking it with any sweet food.

    Funny how different drinks make you different kind of drunk. I also made reall cassis from homegrown blackcurrants, and we drank it neat. It produced a very rich, fruity, heavy kind of intoxication, but tending to blue-blackness as the evening drew on.

    I like the discursiveness of this post, moving from reflection on flags to the flower, and then the different associated memories, I think that’s the kind of thing blogging is so good for.

  3. “I’m the kind of anarchist who would sooner burn a black flag then follow it…”

    Hmmm …. burning a Jolly Roger could make a good riff for the inauguration celebrations!

  4. You hosted Linnaeus?

    Dandelion transports aside, did he report on his introduction of rhubarb to Sweden?

    How timely a coat of arms, given our return to the medieval. I have dibs on a vert conie sinister, on ermines (fireflies).

  5. That’s a very beautiful piece of writing, Dave. Kind of a multicoloured very individualistic flag, full of colour and fierce joy. Anarchy is always something worth spreading, I agree.

  6. Thanks for the comments. Of course, one of the best reasons to put a dandelion on a flag is that it would make a provocative statement, at least in American suburbs. I’m told dandelions are more highly prized in Europe – is that so, Lucy? Our Swedish naturalist friend, by the way, is one Karl-Frederik Lundevall, dandelion expert and translator of Roger Tory Peterson.

    Never had batter-dipped blossoms, but I have brewed beer with dandelion roots on many occasions. They or the identically flavored chicory roots, roasted, make a great hop-substitute in almost any type of stout or porter. (I guess I should’ve tried to work that into the essay, along with the bit about the ‘burbs.) There’s no doubt that brewing or making wine with herbs and other things can fundamentally alter the quality of the buzz. There’s way more to it than just the ethanol.

  7. Yes. Have you ever tried to dig out dandelions when they’ve gone to seed? It’s almost impossible to remove a head of seeds without letting so many of them slip away that you feel like you’ve planted 10 dandelions for every one you’ve removed.

    And the botanical name, Taraxacum, is a fun and lightly sexy workout for the mouth.

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