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Braiding dandelions and petting bumblebees




by Cheryl Hunter (video reading)

 

I rarely played in my own yard as a child. The thought of disrupting the neatly laid mulch, to bury a hidden treasure, or snapping off a solitary stalk of meticulous placed geranium, for a make-shift beetle sun-brella, sent me scampering off for someplace messy, chaotic, and malleable. The manicured, well-designed, exactness meant that any disturbance would certainly be noticed and draw down ire from my parents. I needed someplace wild.

 

This meant childhood afternoons were spent escaping front-lawn-perfection, venturing across my sleepy suburban street, and silently slipping between neighbors’ houses to emerge into an expanse of field that was worlds away from my parent’s meticulously planned and executed front lawn. The undeveloped stretch lay between the backside row of suburban houses and a parking lot of a sizable Episcopalian church. It was never clear who owned ‘the field,’ as it was only rarely mowed. Neglect made it an unadulterated place for cloak-and-dagger adventuring, designing dandelions crowns for debutante faeries, or stalking masses of hoping, flying, scurrying critters while traversing the wild expanse.

 

Early summer days were my favorite time of year growing up in the Ohio River Valley. You can feel the heat of summer on the doorstep, further pushing away the days remaining of school. Clearer daybreaks and earlier sunrises were melting the chilly morning breezes, meaning the navy sweater was no longer a necessary part of my school uniform. Afternoons lingered again, instead of ending abruptly. The pull of enduring daylight meant it became easy to linger outside, whiling away time in ‘the field’ before it became too parched and brittle by summer’s intense heat.

 

Tromping through fresh grass that licked at my ankles and weaving around clumps of dandelions I would maneuver my way to the inner most sanctuary. With the smoothness of blades underfoot and the contrasting breezes of lilac and wild onion, I would stretch out motionless upon my back. The ground still retained the slightest dampness and chill from spring. I knew to enjoy these moments, as the heat of summer eventually baked the earth and desiccated the grass, requiring only the hardiest of soles to manage the prickles and thicket the field would become.

 

With eyes tightly shut, the brightness and radiating warmth above enveloped me. Opening my eyes only the slightest revealed golden manes of dandelions swaying around the periphery. Lying flat enough and holding still long enough, I could go unnoticed, and the dandelions would not attack. I was infiltrating the world around me.

 

Keeping ever so silent and motionless, I waited.

 

Willing my body to sink deep into the ground, I remained frozen and strained my ears until I could catch only the faintest of hum. Soft yet deep like a distant drumbeat, the hum would fade in and out depending on how close they would venture. I was no longer immobilized by the threat of dandelions. There was something else out there. My heart knocked faster as the humming began to close in. Was it close enough to risk the slightest of movement? Inaudible anticipation grew, fueling the intensity to turn to see the approach. Any rogue movement could scare it away! But I wanted this creature to venture closer as I wanted to be part of this wild world.

 

Finally, daring to ease my elbows gradually under me, I could sit forward to check my distance. Was it close enough? If I moved quietly yet swiftly enough, I could reach out and touch its fuzzy bands. Would it stay engrossed enough in the flower to disregard my presence? Had anyone ever dared to pet this creature? Was I the first? I was both fearless, in wanting to reach out, and timid, in how gentle I needed to be.

 

Extending my index finger as steadily as possible, I gingerly breezed over the yellow buttery hairs. No response. Deep breath, while my heart exploded in my chest. Again, I stretched my index finger just the slightest increase of pressure, making enough contact to draw down the hairs and stroke the entire length of its striped back. No response. Suddenly, no longer anxious, I risked another chance.

 

Just as quickly as it landed, it pulled away from the flower to hover just slightly above my hand.

 

I froze. My heart resumed its quickened pace, now beating in rhythm to the hum of its wings. It swung around to face me and flitted back and forth. Then again, back and forth, as if crossing a busy lane of traffic only to swing back to its original course. As a stadium size obstacle in its way, and even with its ability to hover, dive, and dart within its flight, it still collided directly into me.

 

It was the softest of bumps as it bounced off once, then twice. Managing to take a wider berth on its third try, I was reminded of an uncle that had imbibed too much of the honey mead at our last Thanksgiving. As the bumble succeeded in its staggered flight around me, I absorbed the understanding of how mighty an intoxicant nectar could be, watching it drunkenly zig and zag to its next landing on another shock of yellow petals.

 

The slightest dusting of color remained where it bounced off me and I brushed away tufts of barely visible pollen- the future manifestation of summer fruits and veggies. It took only a split second to decide to follow. Weighed down by the draughts of nectar consumed, it alighted only a few flowers away and immersed itself once again in a well of sweetness.

 

Far more confident this time, I quickly extended my finger, so it grazed its back and was once again fully ignored by a hunger and dedication. Both elated and spellbound, I could not fathom how it was possible I was petting a bumblebee.

 

This became my afternoon addiction. Stalking bumblebees, waiting until they were bellied-up at their nectar bar, before delicately tracing lines down their fuzzy backs. Each time I was disappointed the moment they took flight. That quickly evaporated into giggles watching them drunkenly fly away, in any number of different directions, only to find another bloom within reach.

 

I was an eight-year-old with a superpower, I could pet bumblebees.

 

Hours flew by braiding fistfuls of dandelions into pendants of varying lengths. I wasn’t content until my neck, ankles and wrists were dripping in layered necklaces and bracelets dangling with immense yellow tufts, bright charms of sunshine. The quick actions of fingers tying and twisting was soon countered by motionless sitting and then desperately willing one of my charms to pique the interest of a passing bumble.

 

Today, my fifty-year-old self might even have called me a bumblebee whisperer. However, I know my eight-year-old-self wanted to be her majesty, the dandelion-crowned queen of the bumbles.

 

These are the memories that surface when I see adults with plastic bottles in hand, or God-forbid plastic backpacks, filled with noxious chemicals flowing from spray nozzles. I am bewildered. Adults have explained to me their joy in soaking their grass, dousing the most detested of plant species, and filling their sidewalk or driveway cracks all the while dreaming of lawn perfection to be the envy of their neighbors. All I can see is an army of adults determined to bring an end to my beloved dandelion.

 

We never see children toting these chemical lawn bombs or begging their parents for the Round Up Lego construction set or Weed Killer Barbie. Obviously, it’s because the warnings forbid any thought of an adult allowing children near such toxicity- the labels clearly explain that these chemicals are dangerous to all living things. Or maybe, it is because children have no interest in the designed, manicured, and ultimately boring yard for which some adults strive.

 

All I wanted as a child was a yard as wild as a field, with rambling spaces for braiding flowers into chains and for chasing down insects with mosaics for wings, springboards for legs, multitudes of feet, and voices that hummed, buzzed, or chirped. I wanted that multitude of life just beyond my front door. Yet, that could never exist once my parents emerged with spray bottles in hand, discharging their purpose.

 

Bees have been here longer than people. Images of bees were on some of the first coins, and they are the only insect that produces food for us to eat. I have come to better understand their superpower of pollination and how naïve I was to consider my feat as miraculous, when considering over a third of our food supply requires pollinators.

 

Every year we spray 1 billion pounds of pesticides into our air, soil and into our water. We breathe, and eat, and drink what we spray and in the process of striving to be the envy of the neighborhood, our love of the lawn-chemical-cocktail has contaminated 90% of all our beehives. We are trading our vegetable crispers full of plenty and produce shelves stocked with sustenance for the well-manicured lawn.

 

I want to be an eighty-year-old, passing along my superpower to pet bumblebees.

 

Although I am not sure they will survive our war upon the wildness of our own front-yards.


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