Friday, March 14, 2008

"...dances with the daffodils"

Green Winds of March

Damp, rough winds
force bare limbed trees to dance,
and daffodils in sweeping bows;
yellow forsythia fingers spell greetings,
while green winds scour winter cobwebs
from my soul.

It is that moment in spring, the moment when the only thing that is blooming is the daffodils, bright yellow and cheerful. It is the moment when the trees are all still bare, and the grass has not yet fully greened.

While there are some wild narcissus found in various parts of the world. Most of the daffodils we see are cultivars, domesticated plants. Which makes their presence in so many odd corners of the spring such an interesting delight and mystery. Who planted those little clumps of hillside deliciousness that punctuate my mountain journeys? They hide on banks, amidst the dead grasses, beneath the trees, beside driveways. Tiny pockets of yellow splendor.

Daffodils or narcissus (the formal name of the species) are a very old garden plant, immortalized in Greek mythology. The Cream Narcissus (Narcissus tazetta) is considered the oldest cultivated narcissus, going back to ancient Egypt and Greece. [photo of the Cream Narcissus is from

I don't remember seeing daffodils while I was growing up in California. If I did they did not make much of an impression on me. My first memory of daffodils is quite intense and comes from freshman year at Oberlin College, in northern Ohio. It was the first time I ever truly experienced winter. Until one has experienced a genuine winter, spring simply does not have the same meaning, the same intensity. When roses grow over your doorway year round, passage of the seasons has little impact. So I view spring 1970 as my "first" spring; and I noticed everything! The daffodils, the forsythia, even the yellow dandelions, made indelible impressions. The local grocery store in Oberlin, contracted with local farmers who planted daffodils between their cornfields, and offered fistfuls of daffodils for 50 cents a bunch. After the dreariness of winter, I filled my dormitory room with fragrant yellow clouds. This became a tradition for me each spring I was in college.

When I went to graduate school in Lexington (University of Kentucky) there were no ready sources of daffodils to purchase in spring. So I entered into a period of time when I became a daffodil thief. At UK, daffodil blooming generally coincided with spring break. All the fraternity houses that lined the block near graduate housing had huge beds of daffodils. The students would all leave during spring break (probably heading towards Florida beaches), and after night fall I would sneak around the fraternities with a sharp knife and a plastic bag and gather a couple of dozen yellow blooms to decorate my apartment

One of the things that I liked the best about my first full-time teaching job at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown was that daffodils had been planted throughout the campus. This is one of my favorite photos. I painted a mural on a wall in the office complex I shared with several other faculty based on this photo. It hurt to leave it behind when I failed to get tenure.

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