The Prune: Even in life’s ditches, beauty awaits those who discern

THE PRUNE AS a pre-Prune in 1967, when his world was pretty much limited to a half-mile radius around his house. submitted photo

by Todd Sharp

Ditch weed

I’ve been discovering roadside magic since I was a little boy.

It started when my brother and I spotted some gigantic dandelions growing in the grassy ditch on my Great Grandfather Reinhold Kinas’s farm on Reeds Corner Road. We marveled at the size.

It’s all a matter of perspective:

“The dandelions are taking over the world!!” What an enticing new discovery. These plants magically grew in the ditch — five times the size of a normal lawn weed.

What else is there to discover?

Thinking this had been a one-of-a-kind occurrence, we encased them with hairspray.  It was the ’60s, the decade of fluorocarbons. At first we blasted them and lost most of the delicate seeds but successfully settled into a gentler, less direct technique. We moved on to spray painting them with some mod colors. The preserved mutants didn’t last long after attracting the cat’s fascination and collecting a huge amount of dust.

Turned out to be wild salsify, a species of tragopogon.

This was about the same time I was able to ride my bike back and forth on our long driveway and, never being one to sit still, I scooted off down the road toward the Lehmans’ house to look at their Belgian horses.

This huge team of horses was magical, mysteriously kept for no apparent reason. What did they do with them? Parades? Perhaps they were famous in the circus!!

Gigantic working farm horses kept as pets after years of working on the farm; plowing, discing and cultivating. I didn’t know what “anthropomorphic” meant then, but their sad, soft, brown, humongous eyes looked like they would rather be in the fields than the shaded pen.

The horses’ daily activities of hard work had been replaced by the John Deere diesel tractors Charlie and Marvin drove through the dusty, fertile fields and used to scoop snow into huge sledding hills and fort-building piles from our long drive during winter. These horses had been left out to pasture.

My world was small. The items in it were fascinatingly huge and disproportionate. Huge dandelions, horses, and ideas.

I mostly stayed within the borders of a few neighbors a half a mile down the road, going to church or school a few miles away and the occasional car trip to Oshkosh or Fond du Lac.  The 20-mile drive seemed like an eternity of time spent imprisoned in the car.

Now the miles goes by in a snap as I watch bouquet of violet blue chicory, buttons of yellow trefoil, delicate purple and gold spiderwort. Bright orange day lilies, wispy green asparagus fronds, black eyed susans, iris, asters, white camomile and of course, wild salsify.

Another magical year to enjoy the roadside magic of ditch weeds.

Editor’s note: When not cruising ditches for bewitching weeds, Todd Sharp is an advertising sales prune for the Green Laker, Express and The Ripon Commonwealth Press.