Saturday, February 25, 2012

Daffodils mean "home"

Living in a small town often means commuting a long distance to work somewhere else. In my case, I commute 45 miles one way. I've done this for nearly ten years; it's the price I pay for the relatively slow pace of life in west central Georgia. While the drive sometimes gets old, the scenery does not. 

I take U.S. Highway 27 from LaGrange, driving through rural Heard County, to get to Carrollton. Despite the fact that the U.S. 27 I knew growing up is no more—the new, four-lane highway took its place some years ago—the new road still traverses some beautiful countryside.

Tips of outer petals nipped by a surprise late freeze

So it's February, the in-between time of year when the weather can't decide between freezing weather and ice storms or warm weather and tornadoes. (It's true. February, March, and April are prime tornado season in the Deep South.) This year has brought out the daffodils rather early, and I've been delighted to watch them pop up and bloom along the sides of U.S. 27.

Clumps of a dozen or so daffodils

When you see daffodils, you can safely assume that someone put them there. Unlike seed plants, daffodils and other bulbs have to be dug up and planted. In order to get them from where they are to where they're going to be, someone has to carefully dig them up at the right time of year (late spring, after blooms and foliage have died back), transport them to a suitable location, and plant them.

Most daffodils we see along the roadside make their homes in someone's yard. Sometimes they're in neat flower beds. Sometimes, as is the case with my own yard, they're randomly planted in a sunny patch of lawn to surprise everyone year after year with their unexpected yellows and creams in a sea of brittle brown grass.

But what about those planted in or near a roadside ditch? There aren't any houses there...

Those who planted them are long gone...

Just because you don't see a house near the daffodils doesn't mean one hasn't been there before. Daffodils stay underground most of the year. Once they've finished blooming, their leaves die back and don't reappear for another year. So old houses get demolished, their sites fading into and gradually out of memory, yet the bulbs embedded around them come back every spring thereafter.

Plant ghosts, I call them. They don't know the house and people are gone. They come back because this is their home. They're rooted here in every sense of the word.

It's called privet (as in "privy/outhouse") hedge for a reason

Behind the thick, overgrown privet hedge, nearly 20 feet down the bank from the southbound lanes of U.S. 27 in Carroll County, appears the faint outline of a house. Or, rather, what used to be a house.

Who planted these five decades ago?
The roadbed was far closer to the house then.

These are very simple, single-cup daffodils, a very old-fashioned variety found in the yards of very old houses. They're about 12" tall at most, and amazingly hardy. Judging from what's left of the house, and from the size of the flower clumps, these daffs have been here for about 50 years.

Decrepit, wrecked old houses repel and fascinate me. Years ago, I had a friend who loved to go snooping around in abandoned houses. He would drive all around the countryside looking for old cabins, shacks, sheds, and barns. I went along only once; the possibility (if not probability) of the ancient roof or floor caving in gave me the cold sweats.

Still, though, I stare at the detritus left behind 25 or more years ago by the last inhabitants,
and I wonder why they left, whether they left in a hurry, and who decided to let the house simply crumble to the ground.

I was afraid to get closer than 25 feet from these irises.
Too many branches and house parts lurking about.

Whoever once lived here left behind a well-established iris bed. They're probably the old-fashioned, all-white variety (another farmhouse and cemetary favorite). I'll be checking back regularly to see if I'm right. There was so much junk, and so many twisted, tangled privet branches, that I got the willies even thinking about getting any closer to these irises. I'll be admiring them from the roadside, thanks.

Looking back up the ditch/roadside along U.S. 27 South

Matter of fact, there are daffodils all up and down the ditch in front of this abandoned house, and in front of the one next door. Walking around in this ditch was a challenge—stumps of privet and wild blackberries four inches high poked up thickly from the ground.  The D.O.T. must have mowed this area last fall and freed the daffs from years of thick privet shade. Months later, the ground here finally gets enough sun for the bulbs to warm up, burst from the soil, and bloom for the first time in years.

Probably hundreds along this stretch of roadside

Just next door to the other abandoned house

Daffodil season won't last much longer. These old-fashioned daffs, generally early bloomers, will have stopped blooming in another week or so. I've noticed different varieties along U.S. 27 either blooming now or preparing to do so, but they too will last a couple weeks at the longest. After that, they soak up as much sun as they can before their leaves shrivel and die back, building up their strength for next spring. And all this without the benefit of bone meal, blood meal, or other fertilizers.

I love daffodil season, and am always sad to see it go. This year, my plan is to document as much of it as I can before the buttery yellow bells disappear.

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