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home : urban dwellings : urban dwellings October 13, 2015

8/2/2013 6:11:00 PM
FALLING AWAKE | A little dandelion story
By Mary Lou Sanelli

Who was it that said summer is a smile, a kiss, a sip of fine wine?

Before I moved to Seattle, I had never spent much time considering summer. If someone had asked me when does summer begin, I would have said in May, of course. Cool temperatures in summer were the biggest thing I had to get used to. 

And the subject of not being able to swim in the ocean was equally puzzling.

This all changes on a day like today. It’s so wonderfully warm I may take a swim in the sea or, you know, a plunge.

But, first, I need to run up the hill from downtown, cross the bridge, to my friend Beth’s place because I offered to mow her lawn. Beth, recently divorced, sprained her ankle in Zumba class, and she’s let her grass grow ever since. Friends are trying to help her through the next couple of “crisis months” (her words). 

Beth said her neighbor recently asked her to mow “with a little more frequency, please.” He focuses on his lawn, her neighbor does; his lawn is honed, mowed to within an inch of its life, and you know how they are.

It’s what a lot of people do: run after things they can’t catch, like perfection.

Which reminds me of a little dandelion story. 

Unfriendly neighbors

When I lived on my own little plot of neighborhood, my new neighbor said in a slightly perturbed voice, “You know, hon, each dandelion has hundreds of seeds,” to which I answered that they also made great salads. 

The second time we met, she handed me a spray bottle of Round-Up without the slightest embarrassment, which I handed right back, also without embarrassment — after staring at it, collecting my thoughts and informing her that Round-Up is an herbicidal defoliant. “Agent Orange in different packaging, basically,” I said, and that it kills every insect and worm in the soil, consequently killing the birds who eat them. “I’m sure you’ve read ‘Silent Spring’?” 

I asked, knowing how far back I was reaching, but the book will always be one of the great-white sharks of my childhood, circling close. 

Then she did something that really touched me: She left and never returned. 

How dare she suggest my lawn was a fire hazard? I remember feeling queasy. I was afraid she’d call…well, whom exactly does one call with such a complaint? 

Anyway, I’m not much for neighbors like this. Every time I drive into Beth’s development, I feel the same queasiness. Its exclusiveness reinforced behind a gate is something that always makes me feel that it’s more of a club than a community.

Larry came with me once, but never again. “I didn’t move here from California to find myself back in Orange County,” he said. 

A different idea of perfection

I can’t help but compare our neighborhood, where I’ll pluck a hand full of dead leaves from one of my potted plants, open the window and chuck the petals to the street and pretend I had not just done such a selfish thing. 

I get away with this partly because gardeners blow the sidewalks clean and I have generally lost any fight I’ve found myself in, consequently losing my first, second, third and final rounds with our condo board, who unanimously sided with leaf-blowing status quo, rather than my suggestion that the maintenance crew use a good, old-fashioned rake and broom. 

No? An electric blower, then? To cut the noise level? No, again. Why bother until the old one poops out? 

I reason that if I need to live with the modern penchant for powerful, earsplitting machinery to blow away fluffy, nearly weightless remains, I will take full advantage and use the street as my compost bin. 

But mostly I get away with it because no one cares. Even if maintenance didn’t finish before most of my neighbors return from cubicle offices, no one is about to call the city because some little jumble of a mess conflicts with their idea of picture-perfect. 

It’s a relief.

MARY LOU SANELLI’s latest book is “Among Friends.” Visit her website: To comment on this column, write to

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