When I was a teenager, my parents bought a log cabin. Don’t go Abe Lincoln on me now; it was not that kind of a log cabin. It was a Norwegian import; it did come much like a box of Lincoln logs, precut and numbered. With electric heaters and running water. I am not announcing any smithereens of deprivation – or an intention to run for office.
My parents didn’t build the cabin. But it was only a couple of years old when they bought it on a small piece of land; part of a field that had been subdivided. If you have ever seen a field that has recently been subdivided and where lawns are seeded, not rolled out sod, you know that for a while it has very small plants and lots of thistles and dandelions. Our lot had small pine trees growing along the property line. They were 2-3 years old, and you had to look out for them when cutting the grass or you would cut them down as well.
We didn’t use a lawnmower; we used a scythe. One of the reasons we didn’t use a lawnmower was that there was not much lawn. There was a field of thistles and dandelions with small islands of tall grass covering very short trees.
On weekends when we had been in the house, my father would as the last thing before leaving – after kids and dog and food and luggage were all packed in the car – water the “lawn” with “Herbatox”. Something Toxic to Herbs. And probably toxic to kids and dogs as well. When we came back the next weekend, the dandelions would be very strange. They would be 2 feet tall with stems that made curls. And then the leaves would go brown. And then the grass islands would grow a little bigger and the dandelions would be fewer. Another week, another watering. After a year or two, the scythe had to be sharpened many times more to cut the lawn. And the pine trees could be seen above the grass.
For years after, my parents’ lawns would have an unusual number of four-leaved clovers.
One of my school friends said that it was not hard to find many four-leaved clovers. The hard part was to find the first; then all you had to do was to wish to find one more. There is a certain logic to his reasoning if you believe in the power of four-leaved clovers.
I usually say that it means luck to find a four-leaved clover because you must be lucky to find one. But not in my parents’ lawn. There they were almost guaranteed.
One of my friends here in America had a dog. It would often roam around their big property hunting squirrels or do whatever dogs do. It was a friendly dog, and it would always come running for a scratching behind the ears or a game of catch when I came calling. Petting a dog that roams around freely in California is a risky thing to do, I learned. My neck and face started itching. I got small blisters. I went to see my doctor who immediately recognized a poison oak rash. The oil from the poison oak had gotten on the dog’s fur, to my hand, to my face. I was given antihistamines – and steroids to grow new skin.
Whenever I took my medication, the smell lingering in my olfactory system was that of my father watering dandelions. I guess the steroids explain both the wildly growing dandelions and the many leaves on the clovers.
I don’t ever use herbicides. Except when prescribed by my doctor.
In a post, David Marlow wrote about being lucky and reminded me that Seneca said “Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity.” Having already written this little piece – preparation – allowed me an excuse – opportunity – for sharing this caveat related to our favorite lucky charms: watch out for kids and pets if four-leaved clover are abundant or the little ones may unwittingly be on steroids.
Herbatox is now banned in Europe. In the US it is called Round-Up.