Let the beauty we love,
be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."
The Farmwife Diaries
Green-feeling & Dandelion-grazing, otherwise known as Mirth on Earth
Green is the defining color of our physical space on the farm, so much so that I wonder how the colors of the world around us shape our emotions? Certainly, aside from temperature and other physical extremes, I would feel differently living in the red rock canyons of Utah or in the stark white of Arctic ice sheets. I suspect that the content of our dreams and the possibilities of our imaginations are tinted by the wavelengths of light reflected in our immediate environment.
I do a bit of research on the question, “Does color shape how we feel?” As often happens, I follow a trail of intellectual crumbs and end up somewhere surprising, at an article on the sensory phenomenon of synesthesia, “a rare neurological condition in which two or more of the senses entwine.” In the case study explored, there is a woman who experiences sights, sounds and concepts as colors. She literally “sees” ideas like chocolate and letters of the alphabet in color. “J” for example is kelly green. Which makes me wonder if the phenomenon works the other way around…would she look out at our grassy green fields and think, “J-J-J-J-J”?
What intrigues me most in this article is reference to a theory that proposes that babies experience this synesthesia (from the Greek syn for union and the aisthesis for sensation) from birth. “In this way of thinking, animals and humans are born with immature brains that are highly malleable. Connections between different sensory parts of the brain exist that later become pruned or blocked as an organism matures…In a variation of this theory, babies don't have five distinct senses but rather one all-encompassing sense that responds to the total amount of incoming stimulation. So when a baby hears her mother's voice, she is also seeing it and smelling it.” (http://www.livescience.com/169-rare-real-people-feel-taste-hear-color.html)
I love this idea of newborns experiencing the world with one encompassing integrated SENSE of life. I recall a tender moment with my first boy, River, when he as a wee babe. He was cradled in my arms beneath a pine tree on a warm, breezy afternoon in the Methow Valley, the kind of warmth that permeates so deep it seems like the hot air is circulating in your bloodstream (which it is, after all). River gazed into the tree and reached up with his primordial fingers. He was staring up at his hand and at the tree together, wiggling his fingers in time with the slightly swaying boughs, as if his arm were simply another branch. I looked into his eyes and discerned a sense of union with the atmosphere that I envied. The theory of synesthesia would offer insight into his experience of that moment…the soft heat of the air, the feeling of his fingers outstretched, the warm wind on his skin, the colors of the sky and pine, all fused into a full moment of oneness; or me-ness = tree-ness. Heart to heartwood.
In high school, I kept a quotation diary and was prone to memorizing passages from books that moved me. I liked having beautiful words and thoughts on the tip of my tongue. One passage, from the simultaneously reverent and irreverent author Tom Robbins has stayed with me over the years. From his classic, Jitterbug Perfume:
"At birth we are red-faced, round, intense, pure. The crimson fire of universal consciousness burns in us. Gradually, however, we are devoured by our parents, gulped by schools, chewed up by peers, swallowed by social institutions, wolfed by bad habits, and gnawed by age; and by the time we have been digested, cow style, in those six stomachs, we emerge a single disgusting shade of brown. So the lesson of the beet, then, is this: hold on to your divine blush, your innate rosy magic, or end up brown."
I am not quite as cynical about experience as this voice in the book, but it is interesting to note how one of the synesthesia theories describes, “different sensory parts of the brain exist that later become pruned or blocked as an organism matures…” According to this scientific proposition, as we age, we do lose some of our innate magic to perceive the world as ONE.
This spring, I decide to conduct my own research into the matter of how color may shape my emotions. I watch the greening land with extra attention and reflect on my experience. I notice right off that when I return to the farm from errands in town, my drive home is a commute from the multi-colored movements of many people, cars and constructed chunks of civilization back into a less inhabited rural landscape. Chimacum valley is a long broad bowl of a grass, interrupted only by occasional homes and barns, and spotted with the slowly moving shapes of grazing cattle—which are really just grass transformed into flesh. There is no doubt that I feel soothed when I turn right onto Center Road and begin traveling down valley. My breathing slows and my bones settle.
Back at home one late spring day, immersed in glad green feelings, I survey the farm and notice that amidst the swaths of un-mowed and untilled land between the fields, the green is dramatically punctuated by the bright exclamations of yellow. Dandelion! Dandelion! Hmmm, I ask myself, I know green makes me feel mellow, so what about yellow?
Well, I have to say that they make me happy, those dear dandelions! Gold-crowned yet humble dandelions. Small dandelion suns hovering in green space. The ubiquitous, canary-colored shag carpets of dandelion. Yellow sirens in a sea of green (whose temptations we flout with weed-whackers). The nutritious, under-appreciated, omnipresent dandelion.
Emerson wrote, “Earth laughs in flowers.” Around here the dandelions must giggle all the live-long day as they witness the farmers laboring long hours to bring food forth from the earth. Take the dandelions blooming in brazen clusters around the bases of our apple trees for example. We are growing an heirloom orchard that requires careful maintenance and study to be healthy. We graft, plant, prune and pick—hours of work drawing on the wisdom of tradition and the knowledge of plant science. But it is a challenge to grow a healthy orchard organically. We do our best and hope for fruit. And yet, without any effort at all, hordes of nutritious dandelions emerge each spring beneath the trees and are either ignored or suppressed. Given their prolific nature and vitamin content, shouldn’t we be eating and drinking the dandelions instead?
One sunny, spring Sunday afternoon, my boys and I lounge on the grass at the top of the little slope above the orchard. In the winter, this becomes a sledding slope. Even without the snow though, gravity exerts its pull. We start rolling down the hill. This makes us smile. Something about the tickly softness of the grass, the soothing warmth of the air, and the silly surrender it takes to let your body bump and bounce downward. The boys run up to the top and roll down again. And again. There is chuckling and mirth. Mirth on earth! I settle at the bottom among the dandelions. I feel like how I hope a cow feels on a sunny day in a green pasture—contented and lazy. My younger boy lands next to me and exclaims that dandelions are edible! They really are! He bends over on all fours and begins to munch. He is grazing like an animal. River, the elder son, and I share a look of raised eyebrows. We grin, and follow the little boy’s lead. We become a small herd of humans nibbling on dandelion flowers. They taste like spring. Our noses turn yellow.
It turns out that many cultures throughout history have included dandelions in both their cuisine and medicine, and the plants were carried to the Americas by European immigrants, on purpose! It is one of the many ironies of colonization that this plant was introduced for its benefits and is now spurned for its weediness. Herbalists have perhaps always known that the dandelion contains substantial vitamins and minerals (Vitamins A, C and K, along with calcium, potassium, iron and manganese) and so the modern rejection of the plant may be based on ignorance of its gifts.
That being the case, consider this a shout-out to redeem the dandelion. Let us make summery wine from its blossoms, a nutty coffee from its roasted roots, and savory salad with its leaves. Let us use it to treat infections, cleanse the liver and reduce inflammation. Let us pick bouquets of golden dandelions and offer them to our beloveds. If nothing else, let us let them grow so their taproots can draw up nutrients and add minerals and nitrogen to the soils in our gardens. Let them attract bees and butterflies to pollinate and make fruitful our fields. Let their frizzy golden-haired blossoms make us glad.
My newfound passion for dandelions inspires me to make a dandelion-infused cider. My four year old and I tromp into the grass with a mission. We pluck dandelions by the armful. At home, we pack them into a pot of water-- roots, leaves and flowers all together—and set it to boiling. After awhile, the water turns brown and nutty. I try blending it with a jug of cider and let it steep. With high hopes we sample the concoction only to find that it tastes too…too…dandeliony, a bit bitter and rather muddy-looking. My farm friends tell me next time we should just use the blossoms.
So I hire my elder son and his pals to pick pails of dandelion flowers, just the flowers. We put the golden heaps into paper bags inside the fridge while we make a plan. A day later, the bags are filled with wilted, brown petals. Another lesson learned. I take a break from the dandelion cider concept and consider dandelion tea.
The sweet-tempered dandelion gets its English name from something quite ferocious, originating in the old French dent-de-lion, for “lion’s teeth,” which referred to the barbed leaves. But around here it is the thistles that are barbed and dangerous. The dandelions are like little friends, generous with their gold, good for the digestion, and offering opportunities for joy galore.
When the dandelion petals drop and mature into wispy seed heads, it is an act of universal human playfulness to gingerly pick the stalks and blow the fuzzy parachutes into the wind—in one breath if you can! I learn that the word for that wispy part of the dandelion is the “pappus” which comes from the Latin for old man, and presumably refers to the wooly qualities of both.
I know there are places in the world where green is a rare blessing and I try not to forget this as the green of the spring season saturates the land and my spirit. There is something soothing about green; its promise of food and its affirmation of the earth’s capacity to support life. And the effect of bright yellow dandelions on the psyche? Well, humans have ever sought after gold. I horde the yellow dandelions in the treasure chest of my heart, and wonder at the possibilities of fusing my senses and feeling it ALL.