Letter from Birdland | Dandelions make me happy

Letter from Birdland | Dandelions make me happy

In Birdland, poppies are popping, but lilacs, redbuds and even the ornamental quince have already faded.

In spring, the cycle turns in dizzying display, and various irises are blooming now. I had forgotten I planted so many varieties.

First were nanny's light purple ones, with the powdery scent like elderly ladies dressed up to go downtown, but on my meadow path are some big frilly ones — white, yellow and two-toned white and purple, ruffled like outrageous derby hats. My favorites, so deeply purple they are almost black, are pointed cigar-shaped buds, almost ready to unfurl. By the time they bloom, Nanny's will be crumpled and shrunk back into themselves, green seedcases swelling on a few lucky stems.

The grass is bright green, and the yellow of dandelions has transformed overnight into the ghostly spheres of dandelion clocks, ready to drift off in the wind.

Dandelions always make me think of my father, who used to make word games or logical puzzles as we drove to keep us kids from bickering in the back seat.

It would start like this. He would point out a yard as we passed and say, "I like those people, but ..." He would point out the house next door, "...not those people."

We kids would have to try to detect a pattern in his likes and dislikes.

Sometimes he liked the people in houses with the garage doors open, but disliked those with the garage door closed. Sometimes it all hinged on whether the house was a ranch style or a split-level (the only two designs in our neighborhood).

One day, he liked the yards that were sprinkled with the yellow of dandelion heads. I don't know why that one stuck in my mind, and I think I read more into it than Dad meant. I assumed he liked the flowers and the more natural lawns — yards where nobody had applied weed killer.

But in reality, he was probably simply trying to keep us kids quiet and guessing. At any rate, this one memory gives me a fondness for dandelions, and I always celebrate when they come.

When they turn overnight, first to close back tightly into their buds, then to open again as wishes, I celebrate again, even though the naked stems are less appealing than the flowers or the seeds.

But this week, I had another reason to celebrate. I was at my desk in mid-morning when I heard Michael's voice: "Mary, come quick!" It is what my husband and I say to each other when we notice something exciting in the yard.

Last week, when I called him, it was a whole flock of wild turkeys out across the cornfield by the meadow.

We stood at the bedroom window taking turns peering through binoculars. Two toms, about 10 feet apart, were strutting — puffed feathers, tails spread, wings delicately trailing the ground — for several hens.

Today, I found Michael at the front door, pointing into the front yard. Where a few days ago a spread of scattered dandelions bloomed, we saw a flock of goldfinches. They were eating the dandelion seeds before they blew away.

I had seen small groups of goldfinches flying in their bouncing, rollercoaster flight pattern, and from the road, I had seen larger flocks feeding on the edge of my neighbor's prairie plot.

On one of my father's last visits to the farm, he sat out in a lawn chair for a great while under our spinney of trees in the backyard. When I went to talk to him, he told me, "You have a bunch of wild canaries up in those tree tops. I can hear them singing."

It was mid- or late summer, and the canopy was so thick and the trees so tall, that we couldn't see the birds (Dad used my grandmother's name for goldfinches), but we could hear their bright, warbling trill.

Today, they were scattered across the grass — the yellow of the dandelions replaced by the yellow of the goldfinches, all aflutter, as they stripped the seeds from the flower heads.

"It makes sense," I told Michael. "They eat thistle seeds, and the thistles haven't bloomed yet. Dandelions are the same family, and the seeds the same shape and size as the thistle seeds."

I usually leave several thistles scattered around the yard because I've noticed that butterflies feed on them in nectar time and birds in seed time, and I like the stature of the mature plants and the stately flowers. (I put on gloves to pick long stems of them to stand up in my favorite vase.)

Now Michael walks me over to the large patch he has mowed around just yesterday. The plants are just emerging, still just basal leaves spreading on the ground, but soon they will grow tall and bloom, offering refuge and food to the wild canaries. When they come back in a few months, they will have plenty to eat.

Honor beauty; wish on peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She likes to make her yard hospitable for wild creatures. You can follow Birdland on Instagram (@BirdlandLetters) and Twitter (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of this newspaper.

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