Until life returns to some semblance of normal, from time to time we will send out the Corona Chronicles. This publication will provide commentary, brief stories, poetry, book and movie suggestions, and ways to make our time at home meaningful and fulfilling. If you have ideas to submit, please contact Nancy Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wicked Good Maine
The Misunderstood Dandelion
For a narrow window of less than 2 weeks each spring the fields of rural Maine turn a bright cheerful yellow with millions of dandelion blossoms. Renowned American naturalist John Burroughs described the phenomena by writing, “The dandelion copies in gold upon the green expanse, the stars of the midnight sky.”
While many people dismiss this versatile plant as nothing more than an unwanted blemish on their manicured green lawns, botanists will beg to differ.
My father, a native Mainer, also disagreed. Every year, when I was a child, just before the blooms opened we would forage for a “mess” of the tender young leaves. Armed with a basket and a long thin knife we’d head out to the yard (or a neighbor’s yard) to collect the greens that we’d cook up for supper that night.
Digging them out of the ground was the easy part. Cleaning them was tedious. The root had to be cut off as well as any damaged leaves or opening flower buds. The mature blossoms are distinctly bitter and overpower the more desirable flavor of the greens. The rosette of leaves then had to be washed and vigorously agitated to dislodge any bit of dirt lodged at the bottom insides of the leaves. After several minutes of rinsing, changing the water and repeating the process they were finally ready for steaming. As with most greens, the leaves wilted and the mass shrunk to half its original size. Prior to serving, we buttered and generously splashed the leaves with apple cider vinegar. They were so delicious that we’d try to get a least 3 or 4 messes picked before the plants flowered.
The name of this plant is thought to derive from the French “dent de lion” meaning lion’s tooth which describes their sharply toothed leaves. Though not originally native to Maine, we have the Pilgrims to thank for the proliferation of this harbinger of spring. They intentionally brought them to the US for their medicinal properties. Far from being useless and aggravating to green lawn lovers, their beneficial uses are many.
Dandelion flowers are one of the few early spring nectar sources for honeybees, butterflies and moths. They are a cheap (as in free) food source if you live in the country. The leaves are rich in nutrients containing more vitamin A than spinach, more Vitamin C than tomatoes, Vitamins B, E and K, as well as iron, calcium and potassium. The petals of the flower, when fermented with oranges, lemons and raisins make a sweet, hearty wine with citrus notes. During WWI when real coffee wasn’t available, the ground root was regularly used as a coffee substitute. Still it is sold online and in health food stores as a roasted caffeine free substitute for regular joe.
The touted medicinal benefits of the dandelion plant are so numerous, you could almost do away with the contents of your medicine cabinet. Rich in antioxidants, dandelions are thought to be helpful in reducing cholesterol, regulating blood sugar, reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, aiding weight loss, reducing cancer risk and boosting the immune system.
The dandelion plant may just be the ninja warrior of the plant world. Short of being doused with a toxic cocktail of herbicides, it is prolific and nearly indestructible. Given that each flower produces between 54-172 seeds, and each plant sprouts multiple flowers, just one plant alone can generate more than 5,000 seeds. Attached to the brown seed are white silky parachutes that hold them aloft in the air allowing them to disperse far and wide. American author P.W. Catanese aptly used the analogy of a dandelion shedding its fluff to stress the importance of thoughtful speech. “Once an idea is out and about it can’t be called back, silenced or erased. You can’t contain it, any more than you could put the heads of a dandelion back together after the wind has scattered its seeds.”
A dandelion plant can regrow if even a tiny piece of its tap root remains intact. These roots commonly burrow down 6” to 18” into the earth but have been known to grow up to 10 feet deep. They seem to be happy growing just about anywhere the sun can reach, even from a tiny crack in an inner city cement sidwalk.
The most entertaining qualities of dandelions abound in folklore and magic. They are said to be the only flower that represents all three celestial bodies. Its yellow flower signifies the sun, the puff ball resembles the moon and the dispersing seeds symbolize the stars. The round dandelion blossom is sometimes referred to as a clock as it regularly opens an hour after sunrise and closes at dusk. As children we picked dandelions and put them under our friends’ chins. If the gold glow made them laugh they were considered a friend, if not, oh well. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones immortalized this children’s game in his song “Dandelion” writing “Dandelion don’t tell no lies, dandelion will make you wise.”
The fluffy white seed heads sometimes called blowballs or puffballs are irresistible to children who close their eyes and make a wish before huffing on the fluff sending it sailing off in all directions. If all the seeds blow away their wish will come true. Other adult variations on that theme include if you blow hard once on a seed head, the number of seeds left will tell you how many children you will have. Also if a woman blows on a seed head and all the seeds come off, her lover loves only her. If there are seeds left, he is not loyal. Finally, if you want to enhance your psychic abilities to find out exactly what that lover is up to, just drink a cup of dandelion tea.
We are living in a very strange and scary world right now but I get comfort from the words of the famous author of the strange and scary “Hunger Games” trilogy, Suzanne Collins. She writes, “What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again.”
I say bring on the dandelions!
Brenda Smith fulfilled a life-long dream when she moved to Belfast in 2019. An accounting graduate of Bentley University, she worked as a CPA and Vice President of Finance for several non-profit organizations. She earned her MS from Suffolk University in Philanthropy and Media. and has produced, directed and edited many award winning videos. She is most proud of the coveted “Telly” award on her desk. Now retired, she is busy with several writing projects: an early memoir recounting some of her hair-raising global adventures, a later memoir about living with the extremely rare Stiff Person’s syndrome, and writing short essays about things in life that make her smile. She is a board member and treasurer of Belfast Senior College.
The Human Touch
I had an email yesterday morning
from my childhood friend M.
She was the last person I visited
in her home before lockdown.
Just thinking about the lovely hug
we had when you left my house on March 15
and hoping that will not be
the last hug in my life.
These are strange times
when we see more masked faces
than smiles and wondering eyes and
no touching allowed.
Love comes in all kinds of packages
but the best is in hugs.
My skin remembers how they used to feel.
For now that has to be enough.
Heather Reed is retired and lives in Westport, MA in the house she grew up in from her teens when it was a dairy farm until the mid-1980s. She is an avid reader, gardener of flowers and vegetables, loves long walks, road trips to see family and friends, attends Allen’s Neck Friends Meeting, is a longtime member of the Westport Poetry Group, which has had to meet through emails during the pandemic, and volunteers at her local library. She is a recent widow of the most beautiful man and poetry writing and gardening have helped her move through her grief.
Waiting, Waiting, Waiting . . . For How Long?
Waiting, waiting, waiting . . . for how long? It is no longer simply a practical question. This pandemic looks like it may be interminable. Even the steps recommended by experts don’t seem to have definite or even probable time frames. “How long?” is taking on the feeling of anguish or lamentation: “Oh Lord, how long?” Steps of all sorts have already been taken, yet Covid 19 infections are on the rise, popping up in surprising places. We can’t go on like this forever, can we?
As distressing as it is, however, providence has reminded us of a second plague. We are now forced to reckon once again with our long and shameful epidemic of racial injustice, discrimination and violence. Cries of “How long, O Lord, how long?” have actually been ringing out for all to hear since the founding but have gone largely unattended to by our white majority. Yes, there was Abolition, the Civil War, Civil Rights, apparently just enough to assuage our consciences and put the plight of Black people on a far back burner. Cell phone videos now make it impossible not to hear and not to see . “How long, O Lord, how long?” resounds now not only as lament but as challenge and accusation.
Most members of Senior College will remember the last great push for racial justice in the late 1960’s. Belonging to a national church fellowship that was literally half black churches and half white churches, racial parity and good will seemed easy and obvious to me. Attending seminary, however, brought another side of things forcefully to the fore. The day Martin Luther King was assassinated, we were in classes with the Southern Christian Leadership Council leadership that had recently set up shop in Chicago. Riots broke out right down the street. Fires, looting, National Guard forces creating corridors.
It was a heady but hopeful time. Energy and funds for organizing and reforming lasted a couple years. Certain good did come of it even though a wily Mayor Daley diverted and absorbed the more threatening efforts. Chicago soon had its first black Mayor and nurtured a young black community organizer who would be the first black president of the United States.
But . . . here we are again! Racial disparities are still just as bad statistically even if Jim Crow is off the books. Been there, done that, taken care of things back in the 60’s and 70’s. Not! What hope is there? People are still the same, no better, no worse. “How long, O Lord, how long?”
Two lamentations we hear. One for black lives destroyed, a nation full of injustice, our own failures despite good intentions. The second for ourselves marooned on little islands in a world-sea storming with Covid disease and no rescue ship on the horizon. “How long, O Lord, how long?”
Reflecting on these dual pestilences, has opened my eyes to a third eye-opening and related realization. We modern and prosperous people, even or especially Christians, have been ignoring large portions of our spiritual tradition. We have regarded it as unduly pessimistic, negative, depressing, a relic of unenlightened times and peoples. There are the psalmist’s repeated pleas of “How long, O Lord?” The Book of Revelation’s hope for a time when “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” Job’s questioning of God’s goodness in light of the suffering of good people. Paul’s reflection on the creation people as being in “subjection to decay.” It goes on and on.
We moderns have been more attuned to the sunnier aspects like “doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God” and “loving our neighbor as ourselves.” We haven’t really wanted to hear about the “travails of this world,” not as expressed by the dispossessed among us, not even as expressed in our own scriptures. Too uncomfortable. But now the world’s travails have caught up with us. We may not be exceptional in humankind’s trajectory after all! Perhaps the ancients had wisdom we shouldn’t have dismissed. Perhaps a second look at the words of those who have walked through the dark valleys would be warranted. “How long, O Lord, how long?”
Where is it you look for wisdom and understanding for troubled times? Sharing our insights could make for some very interesting Senior College sessions.
The Rev. Dr. Arlin T. Larson has taught courses at Senior College at Belfast since 2006. He has served on the Board of Trustees for eight years, three of them as president. He retired to Belfast in 2011 after serving as minister of First Congregational Church of Searsport.