Fortune Calls

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.


Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp is an organizational psychologist who counsels international transfers, immigrants, and foreign students in overcoming culture shock. Originating from Denmark, where she worked in organizational development primarily in the finance industry, Charlotte has lived in California since 1998. Her own experiences relocating lead down a path of research into value systems and communication patterns. She shares this knowledge and experience through speaking and writing and on her website Many of these “learning experiences” along with a context to put them in can be found in her book Building Bridges Across Cultural Differences, Why Don’t I Follow Your Norms?. On the side, she leads a multinational and multigenerational communication training group.

SOLD OUT! JOIN OUR WAITING LIST! It's not a virtual event. It's not a conference. It's not a seminar, a meeting, or a symposium. It's not about attracting a big crowd. It's not about making a profit, but rather about making a real difference. LEARN MORE HERE



  1. The topic of luck interested me and I wrote few posts on same topic, Charlotte.
    This attracted me to read your post. .

    Number four is not a Fibonacci Number. 3and 5 ew. So, yes you have to be lucky to find a plant with four leaves.

    I wish you always good luck and not again what you experienced with one bad luck.

    • Forgive me for being late in responding to your comment, Ali, and thank you for the good wishes.
      Alas, I have experienced poison oak rash later, but knowing more, I am better at washing off if I am in doubt.

      I had not thought of the Fibonacchi sequence as relevant for leaves, but is does make sense.

  2. An intriguing little piece, Charlotte. I hope you are over your sensitivity to Poison Oak or at least have fewer PO opportunities.
    Some people are luckier than others -more preparation? Or is it that they have more opportunities? Napolean was said to look for generals who were “lucky.”

    I once won $1000. from the Publisher’s Clearing House. I bought a mountain bike, dumped it in a hole and broke a spinous process.

    My daughter asked me once when the lottery was at some ridiculously high amount why I didn’t play. I responded that I didn’t have that kind of luck. “What kind of luck do you have?” “I have the kind of luck where when I put myself in harm’s way, I might get hurt, but I don’t die. That and the kind of luck that gave me wonderful children.” She decided that was a good kind of luck to have.

    Her mother has the unique abilty to find four leaf clovers in any cloverfield anywhere.

    Thanks for the lucky journey,

    • Thank you for a fun comment, Alan, and if you could get into that kind of trouble winning $1000, I am happy you didn’t win the super ball or whatever it is called last week. $1.5B sounds lethal.

      My sister is like your wife, can always bend down and pick a four leaved clover. I prefer to pick wildflowers – but not PO, as glorious as it may be in fall.

salon 360°