Tall and fair was the Prairie-girl. She was not very pretty, but her form was slender and graceful, and her head was covered with a mass of golden hair that made you see her from afar off. It has been whispered that she was deeply in love with El Sol, for wherever he went, she turned her head to look at him; and when she could not see him, she
If you look on the lawns or the fields in springtime, you are sure to find the Prairie-girl. The Guide can show her to you, if you do not know her. But he will call her "Common Dandelion," and I do not know of any flower that has so many things for us children to remember.
If you are learning French, you will see how it got the name "Dandelion"; it used to be written dent de lion; that is, "tooth of a lion"; because its leaves are edged with sharp teeth, like a lion's jaw.
Its golden-yellow flower is said to open when the Swallows arrive from the south, that is, in April; and though it blooms chiefly in springtime it keeps on blooming till long after the Swallows fly away. It certainly thrives as long as the sun shines on it, and fades when the cold dark season comes. But I have seen it out in November; that is, the Dandelion blooms for fully nine months. I do not know of any other flower that does; most of them are done in one month.
When the yellow flower is over, its place is taken by a beautiful globe of soft, white plumes; this is why the story says its golden hair turns white with age. The children believe that this woolly head will tell you the time of day. You hold it up, then pretend you are Father Time blowing her hair away, blow a sharp puff with your breath, then another and another, till the plumes are blown away. If it takes four blows, they say it means four o'clock; but it is not a very true clock.
Some children make a wish, then blow once and say, "this year"; the second time, "next year"; the third time, "some time"; the fourth time, "never." Then begin all over, and keep on as long as any plumes are left, to tell when the wish is coming true.
Now pull the head off the stalk. You will find it leaves a long, open tube that sounds like a trumpet when you blow through it from the small end. If you force your finger into the big end, and keep pushing, you split the tube into two or three pieces; put these in your mouth and they will curl up like ringlets. Some children hang these on their ears for ornaments. Take a stalk for each year of your age; pull its head off. Then you will find that the top end will go into the bottom and make a ring. Use all the stalks you have gathered, to make a chain; now throw this chain into a low tree. If it sticks the first time, your wish will come true this year. Each time it falls puts your wish a year farther away.
This may not be true; but it is a game to play. Some big girls use it, to find out when they are going to be married.
Now dig up the whole plant, root and all—the gardener will be much obliged to you for doing so—take it home, and ask the Guide to make the leaves into a salad; you will find it good to eat; most Europeans eat it regularly, either raw, or boiled as greens.
Last of all, ask the Guide to roast the root, till it is brown and crisp, then grind it in a coffee-mill, and use it to make coffee. Some people think it better than real coffee; at any rate, the doctors say it is much healthier, for it is nourishing food, and does not do one any harm at all. But perhaps you will not like it. You may think all the time you are eating the body of the poor little Prairie-girl, who died of love.