Ditch Banks and Dandelions

eliz-child-frm2Spring always makes me feel nostalgic.  Maybe because, in my growing up years, it heralded a time of magic and make believe.  That time officially began every year when the first stream of water gushed down the irrigation ditch. 

Let me explain.  Southern Utah is a desert with less than ten inches of rainfall a year.  Monroe, the little town where I grew up, was a place of beautiful gardens.  The only way to water them was through a system of irrigation ditches.  Snowmelt ran off the high mountains into a canyon creek.  That creek supplied water to the town, which is why the pioneer settlers chose to build in that spot and why they dug the network of ditches that ran along the streets. 

When I was growing up the earthen ditches had been there for longer than anyone still alive could remember.  Their beds were dotted with a treasure trove of colorful gravel stones.  Their banks were festooned with long grass and wildflowers where frogs, bugs and little garter snakes found a home.  Asparagus and mint grew wild there.  We could go out and pick as much as we wanted.  And the sound of the water was wonderful.

As kids, we could spend whole days playing in the ditches.  The water level varied.  Maximum depth was 8 or 9 inches, perfect for wading and splashing.  Sometime we were explorers.  Sometimes mermaids.  We also loved floating things down the ditch – boats made from wood scraps or hollowed-out cucumbers.  We would run along the bank, chasing them for blocks.  When the water went down, usually because it was a neighbor’s turn to divert it to their garden, we were left with a make believe kingdom of rocky pools where we could hunt for pebbles or set up dramas with miniature toys.  Once we caught a good-sized trout that had gotten into the system and become stranded.  It was delicious. 

dandelion5227Spring was also a time for dandelions.  Nobody sprayed them in those days, and the field behind the elementary school was a mass of yellow flowers.  Sitting among them, we’d make long chains out the stems, forming each link by tucking one end of the stem into the other.  Once we made a chain twelve feet long—a record!  And did you know that if you split a dandelion stem and suck on the ends, they’ll curl up into neat spirals, like fiddleheads?  It was fun to do, even though they tasted bitter. 

The Horseman's BrideAlas, those times are no more.  Progressive town officials, with no sense of beauty, sprayed the dandelion fields and burned the ditch banks.  A few years later they filled in the ditches and installed a system of underground pipes linking to each yard.  The ditch banks and dandelions of my childhood are gone forever. 

I could cry. 

Is there some childhood memory you miss these days?  I’d love to hear about it.

Elizabeth Lane
I'm an internationally published romance author, coming up on 40 novels and novellas. Most of my stories have been Westerns for Harlequin Historicals, but I set stories in other times and places as well. I'll also be writing contemporary stories for Harlequin Desire, with the first release in January 2013. You can learn more on my web site.
Updated: April 16, 2010 — 10:40 am

31 Comments

  1. Oh Elizabeth as I understand. How nice that you shared with us the your memory, thanks.
    Even for me, spring is a season nostalgic. I have always lived in the countryside but places where I was a child there not are more. When I was little, I spent my afternoons with his grandmother. My grandparents have a farm and their home is the classic one of the peasants. Large, red brick with central porch where we used to eat in summer. I was happy to go because had chickens, rabbits, dogs. Spent the afternoon playing with the animals and my cousins. But what I liked was go the hunting for fireflies.
    Catches in glass bottles and the prize was a piece of cake or candy. Of course after I let them fly. Over the past eight years, unfortunately, the fireflies there are more. The channel that housed was closed to build palaces. So the huge campaign that was front of home has been greatly reduced. Now instead, there is a large road that destroyed the crops … so the house is still there, also the grandparents but are no longer children playing in the yard.
    Is so sad to think that my children will not play in that wonderful place.

  2. What a beautiful story, Veronica. Your words took me right there. We don’t have fireflies here in Utah, maybe because it’s too dry and too cold. I always wished we did because there is something magical about them. Thanks for sharing with us. Hugs.

  3. Iremember catching fireflies and playing outside a lot as a child…

  4. Veronica,
    I grew up in northern IL but I have fond dandelion memories too. Before the day now when everyone sprayed their dandelions to death, I recall going dandelion green picking. My mom always made dandelion green salad with a warm sweet viniagrete dressing. Yummy!

  5. Veronica,
    I grew up in northern IL but I have fond dandelion memories too. Before the day now when everyone sprays their dandelions to death, I recall going dandelion green picking. My mom always made dandelion green salad with a warm sweet viniagrete dressing. Yummy!

  6. You know what I miss? We used to play outside all the time. Mainly because it was so stinking HOT inside. We hung around in the windbreaks on the north and west side of our house. It seemed then like they were deep jungles.

    We climbed trees. We had one tree on our farm that had a really big branch, really low to the ground. It was a big old tree and a big branch, about a foot in diameter and twenty feet long. We’d climb on that branch and it’d bounce and we’d pretend we were riding a horse.

    So we’d bounce in the shade and make up a world to dwell in. No interest in TV in that hot old house. Now it seems like kids don’t even come outside. Why would they on a hot summer day?

  7. My dear Elizabeth I love this blog, the posts are always very interesting.

    Lyn yes! Is true, the dandelion. Here in Italy we call them “soffioni” which translated in English means “big whiff” . For luck we have still a lot and also now when I look out the window I have a garden full.

    Mary i think… the most kids do not go out to play because now there are computers, playstation, x-box! All those games that force you to stay indoors.
    Personally I prefer a walk in the countryside instead of the computer but I see that children think differently.

  8. I remember that summer was heralded by tree frogs and the first outdoor concert in the band shell at the city park. After the Legion baseball game, we’d hurry over to spread our blankets and listen to music while the star popped into view, one by one.

  9. P.S.> Thanks for the “memory” Elizabeth.

  10. Hi Elizabeth, terrific blog and I’m almost misty-eyed! While doing gardening this weekend hubby and I wondered why dandelions nd oxalis are considered weeds. They’re green and have flowers. In fact, the dandelion flower isn’t all that diff. from a marigold.

    One of my favorite childhood deals was “spending” (the night) with my Gram. I got to sleep with her in her bed, which was was so high, so vast. Well, I inherited that bed, and these days while he’s little enough, that’s my tradition now with my three-year old grandson. He’s too little to sleep perched up that high, so I sleep with him when he comes to stay over.

    I told him my gramma used to sleep in the bed with me when I was little, but he just has that look of “blah blah blah” because he’s still too little, I think, to understand what gramma is et al. And I am positive he can’t imagine me being little LOL.

    Thanks for the memory. oxoxoxoxox

  11. Back with you after an hour of yoga class. So glad that others of you have memories of dandelions and playing outside, doing things that kids don’t get to do today. I’ve never had dandelion greens in a meal, Lyn. Will have to try them. And I remember playing in trees, too, Mary. When somebody cut a big tree down, every kid in town would be on it. And we used to play outside at night – games like “kick the can” were twice as much fun in the dark. We ran all over town and our parents never worried.

  12. The outdoor concerts sound wonderful Tracy. Our town was too small for those, but I do remember baseball games.

  13. I remember sleeping with my grandma, too, Tanya. We lived with her while my dad was in the navy (my grandparents were separated, later got back together). In her bed was the only place to put me. Boy did that dear lady snore.
    🙂

  14. Ah, the price of progress – so many lovely things in nature get sacrificed in the name of progress.

    So sorry about your dandelions.

    One of my favorite childhood memories is visiting Bandera TX with my grandparents – everyone is in heaven now but I still smile when I think about those times.

    Lovely post.
    PamT

  15. the dandelions still grow wild and free here!
    thanks for the curling tip…didn’t know that one

    i love spring…it’s so wonderful after a long hard winter i can hardly stand it!

    thanks for sharing a lovely post

  16. Elizabeth, what a wonderful memory. What I miss and yearn for most was the freedom we had growing up. Parents weren’t afraid to let their children go outside. Many nights us kids would play until midnight or so during the summer. And my parents never had a worry that we’d be abducted or abused. It was an innocent time. Like Mary said, we never wanted to play in the house much. We preferred the big outdoors. And I wonder why there aren’t any fireflies anymore. Very strange. I used to love chasing them.

    Thanks for awakening old memories!

  17. I’ve never heard of Bandera TX, Pamela. But it sounds like a neat place. Wonderful how memories stay with us.

    Don’t know where you live, Tabitha, but very glad there are still dandelions growing wild and free somewhere. Thanks for sharing.

    Totally agree, Linda. We had so much freedom growing up. The world is a different place now, and it makes me sad that for my grandchildren, everything is ruled and structured, and they will never know those wonderful times.

  18. Ahh childhood memories! So many to pick and choose… I loved spending time with my grandmother… every moment with her was a happy one!

  19. Your post brings back memories. When I was growing up in Washington I remember walking home from school and picking beautiful boquets of dandelions for my mother. She would smile and put them in a vase. Not once did she say anything about the hay fever she suffered from! She just turned 90 this year and still loves the flowers I send her – not dandelions though.

  20. Aren’t memories wonderful, Colleen. And your mother sounds like a great lady, Judy.

    I think about people suffering from alzheimers and how that terrible disease takes memories like this away from them. So cruel. And the rest of us are so lucky.

  21. Lovely post, Elizabeth. As a young child I lived in Montreal, in a predominantly Jewish district. I remember going to the park with my older brother on hot summer days and the smell of the kosher delicatessen we passed on the way. We lived in a basement apartment, and gray squirrels used to come to our kitchen window for peanuts. Wonderful memories!

  22. I love your blog today, Elizabeth. I can vividly picture you playing in that ditch water as a child. What I miss is everything that my small hometown of 2,000 people used to be. When I was a girl, our main street was brick and had everything we needed from clothing stores to dime stores to a movie theatre to a pharmacy, flower stores, a hardware store, a couple of diners, a park and bandstand…you name it, we had it. Now, sadly, there are 2 bars, a pizza place, the bank, and that’s about it. As a high schooler, our Friday and Sat. night thing was cruising main street. Now, I’ve been told, the kids haven’t done that in years. Sad how the small town traditions are lost.

  23. Elizabeth,

    I loved making dandelion chains–and still do. Thank you for sharing this lovely post.

    My husband and I often remark that we never see children playing outside. I don’t think TV or video games are entirely to blame. Parents are afraid to let children out of their sight. We had kidnappers and child molesters when I was growing up but we didn’t have the media, so no one thought much about it. I’m glad I grew up at a time when children weren’t so restricted.

  24. You know, Jenny, smell is the most long-lasting and evocative sense. I bet if you smelled that kosher deli again it would take you right back.

    Your town sounds wonderful, Stacey. Bigger than mine. Love the idea of brick streets. When we wanted to cruise Main we drove ten miles to the next bigger town where it was the thing to do. For a $1 worth of gas we could cruise till time to go home. Probably isn’t safe to do that anymore, with all the gangs, etc. Sigh.

    So glad someone still makes dandelion chains, Margaret. That sounds like you! And I agree with your take on kids. Parents just don’t dare turn them loose, and you can’t blame them. Sad.

  25. How sad that “progess” killed a thing of beauty. But then in some ways, this is my conception of the Industrial Age…beauty wiped out by the progression of ever profitable and faster ways of doing things. How I love the days of the past.

    Wonderful blog, Elizabeth.

  26. The area where our family home was sited, we called it “the country,” was actually some 12 blocks out side the Houston city limits. In the early 1940s, that was really quite a way from the more populated areas. On the north side of the property there was a small ditch. On the west side was a ditch some 4 1/2 to 5 feet deep which ran north/south under the street on our north. Water ran constantly in the ditches and there were all kinds of creatures to be found there. Dad told us that some of those snakes were poisonous water moccasins, so there was no way
    we played there! Other memories: chasing fire-
    flies, playing baseball in the street, summer
    afternoons reading under the trees in the wooded
    lots across “the street” from our house! This
    was when parents could still safely let their
    kids do this!

    Pat Cochran

  27. Avatar

    We used to roam the fields where we grew up. We gathered wild asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. We built forts and climbed trees. One year a pair of foxes had a den on the side of a hill not far from the house. I would sit for hours at the crest of the hill watching the kits play. In the winter that same hill was our toboggan hill.
    Now the fields have been planted over with trees and a subdivision has been built in the area. No more cutting through fields, chasing frogs in the streams, or building forts. Every place is owned by someone (it was before, but only by a few farmers we knew) and is off limits.
    The light pollution today has robbed our children and grandchildren of the glories of the night sky. Few will know the wonder of a vast dark sky so full of stars it takes your breath away.

  28. Karen I agree with you that beauty’s been sacrificed to convenience. Maybe that’s why some of us write historicals, to keep the past alive.

    And water moccasins, Pat C? Yikes. I would never want to go near water with those around!

    I mourn the light pollution when I go outside at night, Patricia. I, too, remember lying on the lawn, looking up at the glorious stars. Now you can’t even see the Milky Way. How I miss that!

  29. Elizabeth, I know this is late, but if you see it, I just want you to know how many memories your post brought back. The dandolions are really prolific and extremely tall this season because of the rain. I’m so eager to let me two younger grandkids split the stems of some and let them be surprised with what will happen. Great post!

  30. Elizabeth, I know this is late, but if you see it today, I just want you to know how many memories your post brought back. The dandolions are really prolific and extremely tall this season because of the rain. I’m so eager to let me two younger grandkids split the stems of some and let them be surprised with what will happen. Great post!

  31. Got it, Phyliss! You’re so lucky to have lots of tall dandlions. And your grandkids are lucky to have such a fun grandma.
    The stems take a little encouragement to start them curling. You split them a little at a time, more as they curl up. Haven’t tried this since I was a kid, but it should work.

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