They hand them out to children, you know. Those yellow smiley-face stickers. At that very famous big box store-that-must-not-be-named. Holding mama’s hand, the child walks in. “Would you like a sticker?” Happy-faced sticker. Happy-faced child, now labeled. Tagged. Marked. Colonized. Future consumer. Future customer. They’ve got him (or was it a her?) now. They’ve staked out that future territory, sowed the seeds of corporate dominance. When I was a child, the smiley-face image was everywhere. The only difference is, back then, it was a leftover of the hippy movement: flower children, peace, love and freedom all condensed down to a silly neon face. I had a bunch of smiley-faced buttons as a child: hot pink, orange, neon green, yellow…
It’s funny how quickly all this ran through my head when I saw the sticker there on the ground, peeking out from beneath last season’s dead leaves. The yellow stood out against the decaying detritus that was in the process of its spring transformation. All around, tiny leaves peeped through the underbrush, solid evidence of the annual seasonal renewal that had to be taken on faith just days earlier.
To be honest, seeing the sticker just pissed me off. Seeing it, I didn’t feel happy-warm-fuzzy flooded with childhood memories of my button collection. I felt annoyed. Seeing the corporate smile in what was supposed to be wild space disconcerted me, almost as though the big box stores were colonizing the forest. And they have, really. How many trees at the edge of small towns have fallen to make way for the fake happy faces? Market saturation, they call it. Their grand master plan is a world where no one lives more than a few miles from the nearest big box. How many miles does the average child live from an intact forest? Is the corporate world’s colonization of wild spaces inevitable? I can see it now. “And here, folks, we have the Grand Canyon, brought to you by_______.” Fill in the blank. Any big name will do.
Later that day, I drove by a vacant lot on my way home. Heaven knows we have plenty of vacant lots in this rust-belt town. But this particular vacant lot was different. It was covered with buttercups, all in bloom.
Buttercups! The lot was overrun with those ordinary, low to the ground, nothing-special-at-all, weed-ish flowers that hold the magical power to predict if one likes butter or not. The vacant lot was in the process of being reclaimed by the natural world. Re-colonized. Healed. Future meadow. Future forest. They’ve staked out the territory, and sown it with their own seed. How wonderful. How heartening.
The color yellow has many connotations in our culture. Yellow daffodils herald the color of spring. Magnetic yellow “ribbons” adorn car bumpers, declaring support and hope for a safe return. Yellow police tape blocks off a crime scene. Neon yellow is a color of warning, alerting us to danger. And of course there are stickers and buttercups.
They hand them out to children, you know. Those little flowers. Hold it up under your chin. “Do you like butter? You do! “ Giggles all around. “But how, mommy, how do the flowers know what I like?” Holding my hand now as we walk, I answer, “They just do, honey. Nature just knows.”
Note to the reader: This post originally appeared April 29, 2010, but I think its message bears repeating.
Photo Credit: flickr user law_keven at www.creativecommons.org