Daffodils have long been my favorite flower. They are so bright and agreeable after months and months of a long, dreary winter. Their green leaves slice through the grays and browns of a dormant landscape just when the winter blues have taken hold of our spirits. And then they burst into flame like scattered stars of the Milky Way that have crash landed in ditches, back pastures, and lawns. There is no method to their majesty, no discrimination in their display.
Their blossoms are seasonal exhibitionists – like tiny ballet dancers in gilded tutus. Like leggy blondes with teased bouffant hair. Like blousy maidens, large cupped and small cupped and double cupped, baring their tender tips – platinum, rose-gold, caramel, amber, and peach — to the swollen March skies.
How could I not love daffodils? Not only are they bright and ballsy, they’re cultivated from myth and propagated by poets. A veritable Who’s Who of literature is tangled round their tempting trumpets. Narcissus, and Wordsworth, Hughes and Plath – the flowers feature prominently in their lives and legends. Elizabeth Barrett Browning even has a variety named after her.
The first time I caught daffodil fever, I was seven. There was an antebellum mansion about five houses down from our house, and its lawn was speckled gold with their glory. I was mesmerized. I had to have them. But I was terrified of the dragon-lady caretaker who guarded that property with ferocity. Every time we ventured onto the drive on our bikes, she instantly appeared on the doorstep and roared at us, her voice crackling brimstone and fire. But I wanted that sparkling gold treasure…
So I did what all rational seven-year-olds with unhealthy hankerings do: I sacrificed my sister. My kid sister. My tow-headed, toddler kid sister with pudgy pink cheeks and soft, dimpled elbows and knees. I figured no one – wicked, scaly curmudgeon included — would ever harm someone as darn stinkin’ cute as Jo Jo. It was unthinkable and unlikely, and improbable. She was just too darn stinkin’ cute.
I hid behind a parked Chevy station wagon while baby sis innocently plundered and pillaged those prize daffodils, her curls and the blooms bobbing with each successful snap. She’d collected nearly a dozen when the shadowy shapeshifter appeared from nowhere and snatched her up in a rough, wrinkled claw. I cringed and hid, and when I found the courage to peer round the bumper again, both the beast and my sister were gone.
The worst had happened. The unthinkable. The unlikely. The improbable. It had happened. A dragon had swallowed up my sis in its lair. What should I do? Should I ride home for help? Ring the bell and risk my own life? Set fire to the woods and wait for the first responders? While I stood, rooted to the asphalt in terror and guilt, the front door slowly yawned open. Out of the darkness, a bright, tiny figure, haloed in white-gold curls, emerged. In her hands was the stolen bouquet. She toddled carefully, one pink patent step at a time until she reached the edge of the porch, then she turned back and did what any three-year old who just stole flowers from an historic landmark would do, she asked for help down the stairs. I had been right. She was just too stinkin’ cute to hurt.
I’ll never forget my kid-sister’s bravery and sacrifice that March morning so long ago. You would think that after such a close-call, my passion for the buttery blossoms would’ve waned. Not so. On the contrary, it only fueled my addiction.
My passion is slightly unhealthy. Those blooms give me fever. Some people claim to have a spirit animal. Me, I would be so bold as to call the daffodil my spirit annual (only they’re perennial. But still…) Like a spirit, they have me completely possessed. I may have once – although I would never swear to it – I may have once pulled up a blooming bulb from the damp, fecund soil of a rather celebrated southern writer’s homestead. I couldn’t help myself. I am an addict. He was one too, although of a different sort. Still, I think he would understand.
So, this weekend, my three fellas and I went to Gibbs Gardens in North Georgia to visit their famed daffodils and to feed my addiction. They have acres and acres and acres of them, spilled across a wooded hilltop like leprechaun’s gold. It was riveting. The stuff of legend. The impetus of poetry. The foundation of faith. A field with flickering tongues of fire, a hilltop aflame with prophecy and promise. I felt cleansed. I felt renewed.
I didn’t steal a single one.
Though, Lord, I was sorely tempted.