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where have all the flowers gone

When we first came here, I was miffed to discover a patch of dandelions not far from where were planning to build our wilderness cabin.

When we first came here, I was miffed to discover a patch of dandelions not far from where were planning to build our wilderness cabin.

Finding an introduced invasive weed had not been what I expected — never mind that we were introducing ourselves weed-like into a wild space.

While my feelings for the dandelions didn’t compare to those of people aiming for an impeccable lawn, neither was I able to appreciate the cheerful little plants.

The epiphany came almost a year later.

By the end of our first winter in the bush we’d been deprived of fresh greens for a long time.

I was craving something green to nibble on, and I cast my eye across the newly melted landscape.

The dandelions suddenly popped into my mind and I wracked my brain for their location — somewhere on a hill.

To my great delight, after a little searching I managed to find the patch again, already green with fresh shoots.

Grateful for their existence so close to us, when nothing else was showing much signs of growth yet, I harvested the tiny leaves.

Thus started a new spring rite: a few weeks brimming with dandelion dishes.

Every year since, we have enjoyed dandelion pesto, dandelion salad, steamed dandelions and dandelion sandwiches.

The humble weeds provide us with much appreciated greens during the time surrounding break-up, when fresh fruit and veggies are only a dim memory and the next supply trip is still weeks away.

Now that the south side of our place is almost completely free of snow, I thought it timely to check if the little dandelion plantation was already in production.

Truth told, I was occupied with a different, rather unpleasant spring rite: collecting all the dog turds liberally deposited across the property throughout winter that had now re-emerged in their astonishing full numbers.

The disadvantage of dogs that stick around the house is that they also tend to heed the call of nature within a much narrower perimeter of the cabin than we would like to see.

As I was inching my way up the slope, hunched over and filling the garbage bag with what had once been not-so-cheap dog food, my eyes didn’t fall on the tiny tender greens at the dandelion spot as expected.

Instead, the whole area was pockmarked with ping-pong-ball sized holes.

Gasping at this desecration of our by now well-loved weeds, I went closer to investigate, to look for survivors of this catastrophe.

My first suspicion fell, as always, on the dogs, then birds, until I realized that it was voles who had methodically chewed off all the dandelion hearts right down to the roots.

Cheekily, they had left their visiting cards in the form of digested dandelions in a few conspicuous places.

One tunnel led, presumably, down into the dungeon of the thieves.

Upon kneeling down at the scene of devastation and performing a minute grid search, I only found two survivors where before there had been scores of plants.

Thoroughly disheartened by this discovery (I had wanted to try dandelions on pizza this year), I resumed my pooper-scooper duties.

It looks like another banner year for voles, I mused.

We will have to step up our trapping efforts before planting the garden this year, as the little critters have shown themselves fond of felling our broccoli, tomato, cucumber and zucchini plants in the past.

If only one of our dogs, who is a passionate vole stalker, would have a higher success rate than his current one of about 10 per cent.

On my way to empty the garbage bag in a discreet out of the way place I suddenly realized that by pure luck, we are actually perfectly equipped to combat the looming salad greens crisis.

Not only have the Swiss chard plants that we overwintered inside the cabin been growing like crazy for the past weeks, in February I had also seeded a container in the cabin with arugula, komatsuna and spinach as further experimentation with winter indoor gardening.

These have also reached the harvestable stage. But we will sorely miss the very tasty spaghetti with dandelion and wild chives pesto concoction that we really love.

It just goes to show again that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.