Monday, April 20, 2015

What Is a Daffodil?

A daffodil is a yellow, delicate flower.

That is what I would have told you before I moved to Silver Spring.

(Silver Spring is suburban hell. That is what I would have told you before I moved to Silver Spring.)

We saw this house on a rainy December day. It was warm and lit, the family evacuated temporarily, and there were just-baked cupcakes on the stove. It was a Home.

In the dark of February, we moved in, and so did the snow. The yard outside, white through the window pane, seemed like just a picture. Tree branches, low and forgiving, held out the precip measurements: two inches, three inches. Relentless.

The dining room was empty, and the extra bedroom was still pink, when my family came over to visit the house. My dad is the one who noticed something in the backyard, coming out of the mulch.

Daffodils, he said.

Really, I said. Wow. They were green blades slicing, improbably, through the nearly frozen soil. Having lived in the city so many years, I would have had no idea what the hell they were.

In the twentysomething temperatures, we turned off the humidifier, as warned, so that it wouldn't freeze and shut down the heat. We unpacked, and we waited.

My dad was right. The blades unsheathed themselves. Pale yellow flowers eventually marched into our yard. They lined the back wall, they streamed down the front walk.

We bought the house on hope, cupcakes, warmth, urban fatigue, and luck. It was built in 1948. 

A daffodil is a perennial, a bulb that you drop in the ground that flowers anew each year.

(Silver Spring is worth considering when your work is in the city but you're tired of sirens and exhaust.)

"They'll only last a few weeks," my dad said of the daffodils. I finally understood (i.e. finally asked) why he always went to the trouble of planting annuals, those cheery little flowers bound to last only until fall if they were lucky. 

The annuals would last until fall, that was the point. 

What else did he know that I hadn't asked about?

When I come home from work now, especially after a hard day, I go to see what new mysteries the backyard has decided to unveil. Someone who lived here, at some time, loved and knew daffodils, and planted many types.

"They're the soldiers of spring," I said one morning, watching them wave in a chilly breeze.

"What?" said Sir UncMo.

They're the brave ones, the ones who barrel forth on a bleak landscape, giving hope to the rest of us. They show us the way, then are gone too early.

Not to make it too heavy, but really.

The daffodil enthusiast who lived here planted different varieties. Never knew there was such a thing as more than one kind of daffodil. The yard has at least five types, including one with a sunny orange cup, another miniature and screaming yellow, another almost white like the snow. 

(Silver Spring is a place where I live happily now.)

I also never knew, until this season, that daffodils could inspire wonderfully nerdy columns with prose like this:

"I simply require Millennium Perfection, a buttercup-yellow trumpet of form and substance that makes King Alfred (or Carlton) look like a weed."

The couple who sold us house told us it had been meticulously maintained by two surgeons (it's near a hospital). Whoever planted those daffodils gave us a gift that goes way beyond blossoms. Did he or she know that, while kneeling in the dirt, thinking of spring?

A daffodil is a palliative, a show piece, a conversation, and a window on time.