In Praise of the Lowly Weed

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If, like me, you have a lawn out your front door, then taking a Word Association Test using “dandelion” will likely trigger an array of negative terms, including perhaps Weed B Gon and other chemical warfare products offered by Scotts, Ortho, and Monsanto.

Thus imagine my surprise at the nearly childlike wonder I experienced earlier this week as I was walking past an untendedDandelions 1 lot that was teeming with dandelions. I was so struck by their beauty that I stopped, leaned in close for a better look, and took a few pics with my iPhone. (I’ve posted one of those photos to the left.) The joy and awe of that moment continue to reverberate as a reminder of the beauty of everyday objects of nature.

But dandelions? I asked myself. Really? After all, just that past weekend I’d dug up several that were scattered across my front lawn.Nevertheless . . .

And the aesthetics of those weeds are in no way diminished–indeed, may even be enhanced–when the flower heads transform into those spherical seed heads known as bl800px-Dandelion_seed_head_(Taraxacum_officinale)[1]owballs, several of which were on that untended lot. Next time you come across one, in your lawn or out on a stroll, take a moment to gaze at the perfect symmetry and alignment of those seed heads.

As James Russell Lowell wrote, “A weed is no more than a flower in disguise.” Even so, it’s easy to forget that, in the words of Walt Whitman, “a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.”

Fortunately, it’s a lesson our children and grandchildren remind us of whenever we take them out for walk. We adults dutifully repeat the cliche about the need to “stop to smell the roses,” but it’s no cliche to a child. It’s their modus operandi.

Jake 1982Indeed, one of my favorite photos is of our son Jake, taken more than 30 years ago, back when he was just 18 months old. We were walking through our Chicago neighborhood and came upon a patch of wild flowers growing along the sidewalk. Without any prompting from me, Jake stopped to smell the flowers. Little Jake is now 6’4″ and the father of three children of his own, including little Charlie. (Shown in the photo below.) Like his father and two older sister, Charlie always stops to smell the roses.

The point of all this is to remind me–and perhaps you–of how easy it is to travel through life, head down as we text and email and Facebook and Google while walking past a canvas far more beautiful than anything ever created by man. For me, taking a stroll through the woods with my wife Margi (a/k/a the World’s Most Enthusiastic Nature Lover) is an aesthetic experience that surpasses a stroll through the finest art museums in the world. She reminds me–and I do need reminding–that even the lowliest leaf or twig is a thing of beauty to be treasured.

And so I end this meditation with some quotes on the topic from those who came before us:

Jake and Charlie
Jake and Charlie
  • “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” Frank Lloyd Wright
  • “My profession is to always find God in nature.” Henry David Thoreau
  • “Nature is the art of God.” Dante Alghieri
  • One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. William Shakespeare

Well, actually, I end this meditation with a somewhat embarrassing disclosure: at sometime over this coming weekend, you will probably find someone who looks remarkably like me prowling my front lawn, shovel in hand, scanning the area for the stray dandelion poking up from all the grass.


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