Urban warfare

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those Better Homes and Gardens types. Not that I don’t aspire to be. It’s just that when it comes to tidying, decorating and cutifying, I’m a bit of a slouch. In fact, up until a few years ago, I’m pretty sure there were cinderblock bookshelves in my house. Outside isn’t much better, with blown bike tubes, splintered hockey sticks, rusty scooters and deflated soccer balls serving as the main focal points. And yes, I even turn a blind eye to the occasional noxious lawn guest, convincing myself that a few yellow heads swaying in the breeze are just a testament to the fact that I’m doing things right. I mean, who has time to be enslaved to the weed puller when there are trails to be ridden, rivers to be run and the day to be seized. Plus, a few little dandelions never hurt anybody (unless you count momma when her head pops off.) In fact, those sun-worshipping buggers are a veritable nutritional powerhouse, chock full of vitamins, fiber and iron, and deep-fried, they’re not half bad.

But lately, I’ve been feeling there’s a fine line between the p.c. approach to lawn care and looking like Boo Radley’s place. Sure, I know spring’s a time of rebirth and all that, but there’s a serious population explosion going on in my yard. It seems the rag-tag group of refugees I’ve allowed to set up camp on my property have colonized over the long, harsh winter. A few weekends of backyard neglect, and we’re talking full-on yellow-head revolt. A coup d’etat can’t be far off. Sure, the side of the garage and the back of the lot has always been their unofficial turf. But so far this year, they’ve taken over the garden beds on the north, completely surrounded the compost bin and have a stronghold along the southern perimeter. Some of the more crafty ones have begun to infiltrate the perennial beds, with a few daring guerillas cropping up between the sidewalk cracks and daring to take root under the trampoline. In some heavily infested areas, it’s hard to tell where one starts and the other stops.

No sooner do I think I’ve gotten rid of one then it pops back up, like a pesky telemarketer or the cowlick that refuses to lie flat. In fact, I’m pretty sure as they swayed in the breeze after my last mowing, spreading their impossibly fine seed to the far corners of my yard, I saw them flipping me the bird.

And that’s when I declared war. OK, I know total annihilation is only a squeeze of the spray bottle trigger or flip through the yellow pages away. But I am honorable opponent, and somehow chemwarfare seems a little like cheating. Plus, I tend to shy away from anything that requires rubber gloves and comes with directions and a warning label longer than the Declaration of Independence.

But I did have one advantage. Dandelions may have tap roots that reach to Timbuktu, but that’s no match for the opposable thumb. Within minutes, I was scanning the worldwide web for myriad covert dandelion removal tactics. There was everything from the pedestrian salt and vinegar method to suffocation with black tarps, medieval-looking metal torture devices and – my personal favorite – the dandelion blowtorch. While I personally liked the idea of strapping on the propane tank, leather gloves and safety goggles like a modern-day gladiator housewife, the truth is, I suffer from severe pyro-phobia. I have trouble lighting a Zippo and igniting a gas grill is downright terrifying, which pretty much ruled out the death-by-fire option. My 7-year-old suggested beheading with a stick, which seemed tedious if not cruel and unusual, let alone futile. When faced with a good dousing of apple cider vinegar, the yellow-heads merely laughed, and they somehow managed to consistently elude the clutches of the medieval tines.

Soon exhausting my options, I grabbed my trusty trowel, a stool and queued up a little Guns ’n’ Roses on the ipod, just to get in the slash-and-burn mindset (no pun intended). I then set to work, ruthlessly extricating them by hand, one by one. I dug with military precision until the dead soldiers were stacked high and my palms were battered and bruised from the back breaking labor. After laying the entire southern stronghold to waste, I stood to admire my conquest with a light head. But as I surveyed my handiwork, and the blood slowly returned to my legs, it became apparent that this battle was far from over. Maybe it was too much time in the hot afternoon sun, but it seemed as if the yellow heads had called in the infantry. Everywhere I looked, and even when I closed my eyes, I saw them, their grayish-purple tendrils and prickly leaves snaking out in every direction. Dazed, confused and parched, I threw in the trowel.

After all, the world has bigger environmental problems than a few unsightly weeds here and there. Like melting glaciers, massive dust storms, killer earthquakes or stopping a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And come to think of it, if golf balls and dog hair don’t stop up that pipe, something tells me dandelions just might do the trick.

– Missy Votel



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