I sink the trowel into the soft ground, digging down to sever the root of the offending dandelion. I can’t help but feel half-guilty removing these vivid yellow flowers from my brown lawn right in the middle of winter. Still, I know it’s a gift to have such an unseasonably warm February weekday to garden when most people have to reserve their precious weekends to get their hands in the dirt. One of the best parts of retirement is doing this sort of work whenever I want. Too bad Jacob’s not around to see me slow down and enjoy days like these.
Jacob. My beloved only son. Dead three years now after driving a little too fast on a rain-slick road, hitting the brakes one second too late, and sliding into that busy intersection. Did he know that was his last moment on earth or was he looking the other way when the car plowed right into the driver’s side door? Did he feel any pain? Did he suffer for a few unbearable seconds? I have run this scene a million times in my head: Jacob, no doubt singing to a song on the radio, one minute full of life and the next lying dead. The authorities told me he died on impact. I hope to heaven that he did. Familiar tears wet my cheeks and I wipe them away with my sleeve. I don’t want my husband to see me crying again, not on this glorious February day.
Leaning back on my heels, I notice a slight movement in the grass not far from where I’m working. Peering closer, I see a slim 10-inch brown snake with two beige stripes spanning the length of his body. Normally, I would recoil, but today I surprise myself by being curious. From my safe distance, I note the snake’s head is rounded, not triangular, which means nonpoisonous. This little fellow appears to be basking in the warm sun just like me, I marvel at how perfectly his coloring blends with the winter grass and bare ground. Mother Nature is impressive in her effort to protect her creatures.
Except for Jacob, of course. But that was the fault of a Ford F150, not Mother Nature.
Resuming my weeding, I fill my bucket with dandelions, forming a growing concentric swirl of green. Unlike the beige lines on the little snake’s body, so straight and color coordinated with its brown skin, these leaves are irregular in size and shape, with stems of varying lengths. They veritably scream, “Weed!” as if to alert the public to the menace they present. However, I read recently that eating fresh dandelion leaves or brewing them into a tea can aid digestion, which seems ironic given the ferocity most people – including me today – attack these interlopers. I can’t help but wonder how many other seemingly negative aspects of life contain hidden benefits if only a person knew to delve a little deeper.
As the sun sets, I gather up my trowel and buckets and toss my afternoon’s labor into the garden bin in the alley. Heading back to the house, I stop near the spot where I saw the little snake and carefully examine the grass to see if I can spot him. No luck. He is now safe from any predators, including me. My dear Jacob is safe as well. Not in the way I would have ever wished, God forbid, but out of harm’s way, nonetheless. I feel comforted by that thought.
Just as I reach the kitchen door, I think of the nightly stomach aches I’ve had since Jacob’s death. “Okay, okay,” I mutter as I return to the alley. Reaching into the bin, I pull out a handful of dandelion leaves and shake them to remove the dirt. “It’s time for a change,” I say out loud. Through the gloaming, I spy the first star in the night sky. It twinkles brightly as if to say the universe agrees.