Some people see a robin chirping or hear a goose honking and say it must be spring. Kenai Peninsula residents trying to turn onto the Sterling Highway might consider an impenetrable stream of traffic to be a sign of spring. To those who live near the Kenai River, one sign of spring is the stench that’s on the breeze when the winter ice retreats enough to expose salmon carcasses along the river banks. As for me, spring hasn’t truly arrived until I see a dandelion in bloom.
Talk about perfect timing, it happened while I was racking my brain for something to write about this week. On the south side of our house in Sterling on Wednesday, May 13, a single dandelion bloomed. Spring is here!
In some respects, my favorite sign of spring resembles the tourist traffic. Like the persistent dandelion, the traffic returns every year. While most of the locals rant and whine about it, there’s nothing they can do about it.
I disagree with claims by alarmists that the dandelion is a menace to the planet. It thrives only in “disturbed” areas, such as the edges of roads. If you’ve driven from Sterling to Cooper Landing in mid-June, you’ve probably noticed that the disturbed highway you’re on is bordered with golden dandelion blossoms. It’s encouraging to know that no government funds were spent on the colorful landscaping.
Many people mindlessly wage an unending war against dandelions. They denigrate the plant by calling it a noxious weed. They spray hazardous chemicals on their lawns and driveways, even though some of these chemicals end up in our lakes, streams and drinking water. But dandelions defy extermination. Their seeds can travel on a breeze for five miles. Regardless of what you do, they come back.
My love for dandelions knows no bounds. Several years ago, I broadcast dandelion seeds around my yard on purpose. Except for a few pesky patches of clover, my yard is now solid dandelion plants. While other people struggle to keep a few expensive greenhouse-started flowers alive, I go fishing.
Call me crazy. U.S. homeowners use something like 30 percent of the water to keep their lawns green. I, on the other hand, have never had to water or fertilize my dandelions. Who is crazy?
Dandelions are — or should be — a welcome sight to Alaskans who have wintered in a bleak, black-and-white world. They’re not only the first blooms of spring, but the last of fall. Their gold color contrasts well with green, one of the few other colors available in spring.
Try as I might, I can’t think of anything bad about dandelions. They’re free. You don’t have to go somewhere to find them; they’ll come to you. They don’t require weeding. Truly independent immigrants to Alaska, they fend for themselves. I’d go so far as to suggest that they deserve to be Alaska’s State Flower.
I confess to having been part of the war against dandelions in my past life. Growing up, my family did everything within its means to destroy them. A few months ago, I visited two of the houses where I spent my youth. I was heartened to see that both yards were still blessed by lush crops of dandelions, despite the passage of six decades.
Someday the war against dandelions will end. I’m betting the dandelions will win.
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.