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Field Notes-What Spills From The Buttercup



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Field Notes—

What Spills From The Buttercup

By Curtiss Clark

In these early fair days of June, when spring feels the full weight of its maturity and growing things are moderating their sprint into being to a steady summer stride, we office dwellers don’t feel so smug about our climate-controlled status. The outdoor occupations look pretty good to us now.

The carpenter brothers, Ray and Ron, who are repairing our barn, bounce on the balls of their feet as they hitch up their tool belts and prepare for yet another day in the choreography of their trade. Today they will work on a stage of shifting sun and dappled shade. Landscapers at the service station top off their various tanks and scent the air with the shimmering essence of gasoline and cut grass and jumbo java. The crossing guard in shirtsleeves unleashes the invisible force of his peculiar brand of tai chi in traffic, paralyzing in place SUVs, tractor trailers, and Harleys so that he might bask for a few moments in a warm, bubbling cross-current of kids and backpacks.

This, at least, is what I see from the confines of my commute. This, and buttercups.

Buttercups are poor relations in the ranunculaceae family, which includes delphinium, anemone, and clematis. They are the sunny little sisters in the rough-and-tumble throng of weeds that crowd the rope line at the edge of our cultivated lawns and gardens. They grow in the bottoms of ditches, in cracks of the asphalt of abandoned parking lots, and in the salty margins of the interstates.

They gather in masses in meadows, protected from grazing animals by the acrid chemical ranunculin, which contains the toxin protoanemonin. It causes rashes and gastric distress to those that dare eat it, though there are stories about cows that have become fatally addicted to the pretty little wildflower.

And on this particular morning, buttercups are growing in profusion on a shady bank at the first corner of my ever-winding way to work. They interrupt my consideration of possible outdoor occupations with a vivid recollection of a childhood ritual.

As kids we would routinely flop down on the ground to recover from some playtime exertion or another. Invariably, there would be buttercups within easy reach. We would pick them and hold them beneath our chins. If the blossom’s cup spilled its yellow reflection on our dirty necks, it was a sign that we liked butter.

So in these early fair days of June, when perfect weather has me reassessing what I’m doing in an office job, I get that old urge to flop down on the ground to consider the possibility of an outdoor career. There are so many good choices. How does one choose?

I guess it boils down to a very basic question: What do I like? Where do you start with a question like that?

Fortunately, at this time of year there is always a starting place within easy reach: I am a man who likes butter.

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