Monday, April 24, 2006

Evolution 101

Dandelions are proof positive that the "survival of the fittest" is a myth. Or at best incredibly imperfect.

Just think about it for a minute. For many, many, many years now these weeds of the daisy family have been absolute anathema to the entire lawn culture of the suburban portions of our country.

Chemical and organic products have been assiduously developed to eliminate them. Professional lawn care services, both natural and un-, have appeared on the streets of our neighborhoods - their vehicles ejecting rubber boot clad, hose dragging "technicians" whose sole intention is ridding the lawn of any vestige of the broadleaf yellow plants.

Even at its most rudimentary level, gardening has a device, the fork-tongued weed remover, clearly designed with dandelion uprooting in mind.

I'm having these thoughts as I am wielding that very same the hand tool on one of the twenty or so yellow intruders that have survived my organic lawn care company's Spring application of pre-emergent broadleaf weed killers.

And as I look around at the other houses in my neighborhood I can easily tell which have chemical lawn service (one or two isolated dandelions), organic (a small number of localized lion-toothed invaders) or none at all (lots and lots!). In my immediate neighborhood the dandelion bottom line is - most have less than two, some a few, and a very small number have a very large amount.

So given this crystal clear, very public statement of total dislike for their very existence, why haven't the dandelions realized that presenting themselves as tall, bright yellow, toothy-leaved "flowers" in middle of closely cropped, uniformly green fescue carpets shouldn't really be the best way to ensure their survival.

It's like the old Stephen Wright comedy routine taking a shower and seeing a spider scurrying across the white tiled wall. The spider stops and seems to crouch down thinking "Yeah. I'll just stay still and press my little black body down against this shiny all white surface. Nah! He'll never see me."

And it's even harder for the weeds to hide once you've spotted a few of them.

Just now for example I went out to dig up a group of five bright yellow dandelions that decided to "come out" right along the edge of my sidewalk. In order to dig them out I had to visually find the hidden tap root by backtracking down from the flower into the ground. It's actually pretty easy to do this because the jagged outline of the offensive weed is so obvious against the smooth grass background.

In the process I implant the image of that green saw-toothed body so firmly in my mind that it becomes a visual template through which I'm now viewing anything and everything. And whatever falls within the confines of that pattern is going down. Even headless dandelions without any sign of aboveground yellow or white all of a sudden leap to the foreground when I scan a surrounding area. And the more I find, the better my vision gets. Suddenly I am a weed-seeking missile of death - crawling and duck-walking from one unwanted plant to the next and dispatching it to whatever afterlife awaits the universally unpopular.

Until hours later when, legs cramped and eyes blurry, I drag the last bucket of dead dandelions to dump into the trash, and call it a day.

In bed that evening I'll close my eyes and see that same green spiky image floating in the dark nighttime space. If I finally fall asleep the insidious weed will punctuate my dreams. And when I awake and look out on my lawn I will see that they are back. As they are in my neighbor's yards. So I will put on my fighting uniform, grab my weapon and return to the battle.

All the while I'm wondering - if the theory isn't wrong then how come these dumb little weeds are evolutionarily so far ahead of us?

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