Guest Post: “Handfuls of Sunshine and Starlight” By Kelly Jarvis

May 12, 2020

Each week in “Rapunzel’s Circle,” the class we’re currently running, we invite our marvelous students to undertake a quest. Each quest is a simple way to connect the stories and themes of the week with everyday life – a bridge between fairy tales and real life during a pandemic.

Last week, our theme was The Dark Woods, so of course the quest was rooted in the natural world. We asked our students to befriend The Dark Woods – to choose a plant they saw on a daily basis on their way to work, through a window, or steeped in their teacup. We invited our questers to describe their flora, to research a little into the folklore that surrounds it (has it been used to heal some ailment? It is a favorite of the fairies?), and, most importantly, how it makes them feel.

Our inbox and discussion group are both bursting with dozens of incredible accounts, stories, and photographs, but the very first completed quest was from our friend and student Kelly Jarvis. Her reflection on the humble, brilliant dandelion brought us so much delight that we asked her if we could share it with you this week.

So, without further ado, we’re turning it over to Kelly!

“When I was a little girl, I loved flowers. Each Spring, my grandmother and I would circle our house searching for crocuses bruised purple by their daring ascent through the soil. We read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and dreamed of a house like Manderley, surrounded by the crush of blooming rhododendrons, and, on rainy days, we planted lush lilac bushes across the backyard of our imagination, their flowers spilling wildly over the fence like tangled locks of Rapunzel’s hair.

When I grew up, I learned that I do not possess the magic to coax such beauty from the earth. The only flower that blooms in my backyard is the dandelion. So, for today’s quest, I set out to learn more about the little yellow blossoms that grow in defiance of my husband’s desire for an orderly lawn full of green grass soldiers standing together at unobstructed attention.

Like fairy tales, dandelions have survived since the beginning of recorded time, and, like fairy tales, dandelions are found across the world. The name is a corruption of the French phrase “lion’s tooth”, but this organic protagonist goes by other names as well including the Irish daisy, the Estonian butter flower, the Swedish worm rose, the glorious Witch’s Gowan, and the bawdy “piss-a-bed”. There are even plants known as “false dandelions”, and I imagine a chorus of birds singing of blood dripping from the wounds where these imposters have been harvested to warn fairy princes that they have chosen the wrong stem.

I found a story about a fairy who crowned the dandelion the most beautiful flower because, unlike the rose and tulip who desire constant admiration, the dandelion seeks only to bring happiness to fields where children gather. Another story speculates that dandelions are fallen stars who have offended their mother, the moon, with their naughty chatter, and yet another reveals the Norse people once worshipped the lowly weed, calling it “the sunshine of Balder”. The south wind has fallen victim to the dandelion’s charms, thinking her a golden-haired maiden dressed in green, but the flower is far more than a muse. It can provide sustenance to hungry people who gobble it up like rampion, and it can even be bottled into wine which, according to Ray Bradbury, tastes like “summer caught and stoppered.”

When my sons were little, they would blow dandelion seeds across the yard, sending their little boy wishes into the breeze. They would spot the yellow weeds in cracks of the sidewalk and patches of dirt and bring them to me as spontaneous representations of their love. I would place their offerings in plastic cups on the windowsill, always wondering which of the wilting blossoms picked in the midst of their play would be the last. All too soon, one of them was.

My sons still bring me flowers; I receive hanging baskets to grace our front porch each Mother’s Day and bouquets of roses wrapped in baby’s breath and tissue paper on my birthday. But these beautiful arrangements pale in comparison to the sticky handfuls of sunshine and starlight picked by the little boys of my memory, who paused in their games if only for a moment, because they found something beautiful and wanted to share it with me. Dandelions, like fairy tales, have been exiled from art and relegated to the nursery, but perhaps, this is the key to their survival. We all have a dandelion story. After today’s quest, I think I agree with the fairy who crowned the overlooked golden-haired maiden, continuing to bloom in defiance and adversity, the most beautiful flower of all.”

~ Kelly Jarvis

Kelly Jarvis teaches classes in writing, literature, and fairy tales at Central Connecticut State University and the University of Connecticut. She loves being a student at the Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic. She lives with her husband and three sons in a house overlooking a yard stained yellow by dandelions.

Main Image by Kelly Jarvis

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