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In praise of dandelions: for May Day


A single dandelion pushed through the stony ground. What does it look like to stubbornly bloom in the most unlikely of places?

It is May 1st. The kids’ schools were closed today for Labour Day, which I had somehow failed to mark in my calendar (it's not a public holiday here in Denmark) so I had directees scheduled as normal. But spring was also calling, so in between two calls we packed up the pup into a friend’s borrowed car and drove out to the forest.


Here, the trees are only just beginning to notice that spring has come. The beeches still hang on to the last of their autumn leaves and the birches swing delicate limbs empty of green.


And yet, the forest floor was alive with pom pom pops of yellow: dandelions everywhere have exploded to life in just the last few days.


We gathered dandelion heads, while I talked to my little ones about the indigenous idea of “honourable harvest” (which I first read about in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass) and we laughed at their Danish name, mælkebøtte.


I love dandelions. They are audacious and cheerful and have the stubborn hope to bloom in the most unlikely of places.


Of course, they are most often called weeds, and yet, as my husband once said to me in our first garden when I was trying to figure out the correct things to pull up, “It’s only a weed if you don’t want it growing there.”


Dandelions are incredible though. Today, they turned up most abundantly on the forest floor where trees had recently been felled - dandelions are the ones that go first, that bring soil back to life and create mini ecosystems where there was barrenness. They adapt and they transform.


And there is no part of them that is not good for you. From their roots to their leaves to the flowers, they are delicious and nutritious. Our lawn in East London was covered in them, and I’d regularly pick the leaves to add to salads through the spring and summer. Today, the flower heads we picked are infusing in a jar of oil that I hope to turn in a few weeks into a hand salve.


These little fairy clocks are known as the flower of St Brigid, perhaps because they are one of the first spring flowers, perhaps because they look like little fires, and both the goddess and the saint Brigid were associated with fire. An old nursery rhyme starts “the dandelion lights its spark, lest Brigid find the wayside dark…”


Last week, Gideon Heugh shared a short poem on instagram which caught my attention: “but God is a weed… playing havoc / with our pretty borders”.


I resonate with that, and perhaps it explains part of my love for the common dandelion. Back in 2017, I wrote a blogpost mid-deconstruction (although we didn’t call it that then - it was a faith crisis or back-sliding) about the lesson of weeds:


“Many days I’d like the assurance of a marked out plot. I’d like someone to plant me there - how’s that for passive? - and then just do my thing in that space, sure that was where I was meant to be…
Instead, I feel a bit like a trailing little weed. My faith is shifting, my work is shifting, my little international family is growing and changing. Nothing is certain and everything is confusing.
But I feel myself blooming despite it all.”


This May Day,

half way between the spring equinox and summer solstice,

May you bloom despite it all.


May you let the weed-God disrupt your careful borders;

may you stubbornly dare to flourish where you've been told not to,

and may you bring beauty, nourishment and light

to the barren places in your world.


May it be so.

 

If you're going out to pick dandelions or fresh nettle leaves or one of the other foraging gifts of spring, perhaps you'd like my "Foraging as a Spiritual Practice" devotional? You can purchase it here.


My spring Faith Shift spiritual direction group is under way and I am already so in awe of how quickly and beautifully a group of strangers come together with deep listening, compassion and support. I'll be opening up new groups in September, and if you want to be the first to hear about it, you can add your name to the waiting list (it also helps me to know what timings would suit most people).


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