top of page

See those brown spots in the photo above? They’re all over our yard.

My first thoughts were, Oh no! Fungus! Underground grub! Incontinent canines!

As it turned out, the answer was even more insidious: Deb.

Over the years my bride has had every good intention of wiping out the dandelions in our lawn. This is an excellent use of her skills as a mitigator of living things, and she usually takes to the task with gusto, armed with a simple garden fork and a maniacal grin.

Deep down we both know this is a hopeless endeavor, as our neighborhood is resplendent with yellow-headed Taxacum officinale growing in drainage ditches, unmowed parkways, and the lawns of dandelion-tolerant neighbors. There are enough dandelions around here to ensure a healthy and perpetual crop throughout the southern half of our state. Those tufty little seeds fill the air like snow flurries.

Nevertheless, every spring as the dandelions start to show their fearsome noggins, Deb’s anti-dandelion crusade begins. Part of her urge certainly is the advent of good weather and the pleasure of being outside after a long winter. And part of her urge is simply to eradicate something.

Deb, who studies the nuances of her craft, had recently discovered that a dose of plain vinegar is an effective herbicide. This revelation was like giving Sweeney Todd a shiny new straight razor. She began to seek out victims—a neighbor’s bamboo poking up in our western flower beds; scraggly weeds growing in our gravel pathways, and Taxacum just about anywhere.

Vinegar made eliminating dandelions ridiculously easy—just stroll around with a jug of white vinegar and bombs-away. Sploosh. Dead. Don’t even have to bend over.

Unfortunately, the kill radius of a splash of vinegar can be considerably wider than the individual target, and collateral damage ensues.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the word “vinegar” derives from the French vin aigre, which means sour wine. (I think we can all agree that few things in life are as disappointing as anticipating a nice glass of wine only to discover the bottle is “corked,” turning a promising claret to vin aigre and hanging a dark cloud over the remainder of the evening).

Citing Harvard again (so unimpeachable!), the use of vinegar has been traced back over seven-thousand years to the ancient Babylonians. Back then, it was used as a digestive aid and a food preservative. (Journalist Tip: if you ever want to establish basis for a factual statement, link it to ancient Babylonians. Tough to disprove. Or Harvard, even tougher.)

Household vinegar is made up of mostly water and about 5% acetic acid. It’s touted as a nontoxic natural herbicide, devoid of the lab-manufactured chemicals found in many commercial weed killers. It can be an effective plant killer, disrupting cells walls and causing leaves and stems to wither away. (Stronger 20–30% solutions of horticultural vinegar are available at garden centers—they are very caustic and should be handled with care.)

I was not aware of my sweetie’s actions until well after the deed itself, when the spring rains had enlivened our lawn and the brown spots became obvious. When I asked if she and a jug of vinegar might be the cause of the mysterious lawn blight—and I inquired in a very calm and rational manner I might add—Deb answered with a shrug and a nonchalant, “maybe.”

As a student of Spousal Language Translation, I figured she meant, So what? Get over it. It’ll grow back.

Funny story: household vinegar doesn’t completely kill the roots of several types of common weeds, dandelions being one of them. Leaves and stems, yes, but those sneaky old taproots will remain unaffected and eventually the weed will grow back. Grass, being more tenderhearted, takes longer to recover. Eventually the dandelions will reappear to fill in the pockets of scorched earth, and our lawn will indeed return to its natural weed-filled state.

It’s too bad that Taxacum has gotten such a bad rap for being the transgressor of well-manicured lawns. In fact, the plant has much to offer. Dandelion greens and flowers are perfectly edible and are rich in vitamins and minerals, more so than kale and spinach. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the lowly dandelion provides antioxidants and compounds that help reduce inflammation, control blood sugar, and reduce blood pressure.

The leaves tend to be a bit bitter, it’s best to add a few chopped leaves to a veggie sauté or mix them judiciously in salads. And if you decide to douse the dandelions in your lawn with a splash of vinegar, try a nice balsamic.

41 views0 comments
  • John R

I recently took a trip to visit my son in Chicago. I grew up in the surrounding suburbs, and I always feel comfortable when I return. From the familiar tenor of the seasons to the hard-vowel inflections of the cabbies and baristas, it’s the undeniable fulcrum of my being.

The last bluster of winter was making itself known, with winds cracking in from the big lake, scattering a mix of rain and snowflakes. My son lives in the Edgewater/Andersonville neighborhood, one of the city’s agreeable and unpretentious residential locales. Block after block features nineteenth-century, three-story Victorian houses of every permutation of design and color, built cheek-by-jowl of wood, brick and stucco, with an occasional Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired bungalow thrown in the mix, all with affable front porches and gravel-paved alleyways behind. The sidewalks are cracked and heaved from the roots of venerable shade trees, a hazard that necessitates a mindful pace. Impressive limestone churches appear with regularity, and during the day the hustle of the surrounding city is joined by the squeals and laughter of schoolchildren released from classes and loosed upon playgrounds where they romp in complete disregard for any inclement weather.

During the day while my son was at work I took long walks, hatted and gloved against the chill. I didn't know this part of the city specifically—it's a big metro!—and I wanted to explore. Despite the fact that the streets are laid out in a reliable, predictable grid and that the Google maps app on my iPhone practically guarantees that only a buffoon could get lost, I got lost. I ended up on streets that didn't make sense (to me) and as I wandered about, pawing with a chilled finger on the surface of my phone and stumbling now and then over an uprooted chunk of sidewalk, I found myself at the entrance to Rosehill Cemetery.

As a fan of serendipity, I ventured in.

My first impression was, Holy cow! This place is fricken huge! Indeed, the markers stretched to the horizon in all directions, and the grounds were webbed with meandering roads. I would learn later that Rosehill is Chicago’s largest cemetery, actually one of the largest in the country, encompassing over 350 acres and featuring (not sure if featuring is the appropriate word here, but it serves its purpose) somewhere around a quarter-million gravesites.

For ambulatory immersion, few places can match a cemetery, especially one as large and sprawling as Rosehill, and I began to wander about. From what I could see, I was the only one there (the only living one, that is). It was as if an enormous private park had been set aside for just for me. It was quiet (duh) and an exquisite respite from the tremors of the big city, especially some of the more ferocious main arteries that my peregrinations had forced me to traverse (looking at you, West Devon Avenue, where crosswalks apparently are considered “target-rich environments” and small man in a battered Honda Civic tried to send me to Rosehill permanently.)

I was blown away by the diversity and architectural complexity of the markers. So many! From soaring obelisks of carved granite 30 feet tall to tiny wedges of limestone nestled quietly into the earth. Statues and mighty crypts to honor the resting places of captains of Chicago industry set amidst plain, 150-year-old stones of soldiers who died in the Civil War. I much admired a pair of simple markers, each just a foot long and maybe eight inches wide. The barely discernible, weather-worn inscriptions said, “Father” and “Mother.”

I walked for miles and savored the tranquility and ambient scenery. There are rolling hills and three lakes and a nature preserve in Rosehill, and chevrons of honking geese floated past with regularity. I loved the trees. The entire grounds are populated with magnificent red oaks, their bare branches filigreed against the gray sky and their sturdy trunks lending grace and dignity to the surroundings. There are other trees on the grounds, sure—willows by the lakes and an occasional spruce in its evergreen cloak. But the oaks predominate not only with their number, but with their presence and a mysterious, storybook-like sentience. Many were probably planted before the birth of the very people now interred under their mantling limbs.

I’m not one to stroll about in a cemetery and get wistful and philosophic about the meaning of life. Life’s too short for that. But I do like trees. And I like knowing there are living things that can and will gracefully outlive us.

By the way, if you like your Chicago with a West Coast connection, try the sweet and fanciful novel “Chicago” by

one of Oregon’s favorite writers, Brian Doyle. He was a prolific and inspiring author who died all-too-soon

in 2017 at the age of 60.

26 views0 comments
  • John R

People remind me all the time how smart I am. When they visit they’ll look at our garden and say, “Gee I thought you were smarter than this.” To which I’ll gratefully (and with all modesty) reply, “Aw, shucks. Not really.”

Which brings me to the mystery image, above. I have no idea what those things are that are coming out of the ground. They’re like two little aliens poking up butt-first into the cool late-winter air.

Normally, I’d conduct a thorough internet search for things like, “emerging bulbs” and “fat globular items with no apparent purpose showing above ground.” I’d send the photo to the Oregon State Extension Service for an I.D. and I’d solicit the advice of my gardening friends.

But this time, I’m letting it slide. I’m putting my journalistic responsibilities on a well-deserved hiatus. All that research and double-checking facts can get so (yawn) time-consuming and tiring.

But no problem! While my brain takes a breather, I’m going to turn this blog over to a brain that never tires of cranking out sentences. I’m invoking ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence robot that will regurgitate words at the slightest provocation and is seen as a godsend for Ph.D candidates who have put off writing their dissertations until the very last minute.

All it takes is a prompt and ChatGPT will blab on like a history professor during last call. Let’s try it!

Prompt: Write a short introductory paragraph about the benefits of gardening

Response: Gardening offers numerous benefits to individuals, communities and the environment. From providing fresh produce and improving physical and mental health, to creating attractive landscapes and promoting biodiversity, gardening has the power to positively impact our lives in multiple ways.

Okay, that wasn’t bad. Not great, but not bad. It has that sort of chimp-with-a-typewriter feel to it. But look at all the space it filled in this blog! Let’s up the ante:

Prompt: Write a dramatic introductory paragraph about the dangers of gardening

Response: As you step into your garden, surrounded by the fragrant blooms and vibrant greenery, it may seem like a peaceful haven. But beneath the beauty lies a hidden danger, lurking in every corner and waiting to strike. Whether it's the sharp thorns of roses, the poisonous leaves of nightshade, or the venomous bites of spiders, gardening can be a treacherous pursuit. With every reach and every bend, you expose yourself to the risks of injury, illness, and even death.

OK, now we’re cooking. In fact, ChatGPT has hit several nails on the head here, especially that bit about how gardens can kill you. That’s pure gold. Although it doesn’t answer the question, What are those things poking up out of my garden? Try, try again.

Prompt: Write a dramatic introductory paragraph about tiny alien beings emerging from the ground.

Response: The ground shuddered and split open, revealing an otherworldly sight unlike anything humanity had ever seen. From the depths of the earth, tiny, shimmering beings emerged, their minuscule forms pulsing with an inner light. People all over the world watched in awe, wondering what purpose these tiny, mysterious creatures had in emerging from the ground, and what their presence would bring to the world.

Wow! And it’s all happening in my very own garden! But let’s not end with sci-fi speculation. Let’s create something just for the spring season:

Prompt: Write a short poem about tulips


Tulips in the garden stand,

Colors bold and bright, at hand.

Red, pink, yellow, and white,

A rainbow in the morning light.

Petals soft, like silk so fine

A gentle sway in the breeze divine.

Each stem a work of art, so rare,

A symbol of the beauty everywhere.

They bloom and brighten up the day

And bring a smile to all who say,

"Oh, how lovely are the tulips bright,

A gift from nature, pure and light."

Aww, you had me at, “A rainbow in the morning light,” you big beautiful artificial brain you.

Tulips: ©Venkra | Dreamstime

77 views2 comments
  • Instagram Social Icon
bottom of page