Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Daffodils from another time

This mild winter has given us a host of luxuries, from cold, dry days made for long walks in the woods, to mild afternoons that gave us time to finish the painful clearing of brush and brier from the face of the pond dam, and a good start on reclaiming some of the fields that have started to go over.

 I've read that you can lose a farm field in as little as two years if you don't mow every year; what we've found is that nature starts reclaiming the edges first. Every time there's an ice storm the tree branches sag a little lower, making it harder for tractors to mow to the old edges of the field, and before long you realize you can't even see the original fence line.

  So it is with the field bordering our leaky pond.  In the 1990s  I brought a canoe up from Raleigh and kept it on some old saw horses by the rusty barbed wire fence -- bobwar, we called it when I was a kid, not knowing there was more to it.  We sold the canoe long ago to friends, but left the sawhorses by the fence.  Not long ago, as we were cutting back the saplings and hawthorn and locust and greenbrier, I found the remains of one of those sawhorses, and realized that nature had taken back more than 20 feet of the field in some places.  We were just getting there in time.

We've watched, too, as the daffodils down by the old house began putting out green shoots, then faintly yellow buds, and in the past few days bright yellow blossoms.  They're short-stemmed daffodils, perhaps 5 or 6 inches at most, a hardy variety to stand up to the harsh winds that blow up the narrow notch from where the creeks converge half a mile down the way.  We've been watching those daffodils reappear each spring for decades now, and often I wonder who planted them and what life was like on this old farm. The old house hasn't been occupied for at least half a century, but years ago met some folks who had lived in the house in their youth. It was a good place for a kid to grow up, Buford Wood told me a few years before his death -- hard times, but a good place to learn how to shoot, how to hunt and how to live on a little.

  We think the house was built early in the 20th century, perhaps about the time the springhouse was built, but well before a little root cellar in the hillside.  The house has a central chimney of dry-laid stone, and inside the fireplaces on either side of the central wall were converted to what looks like an oil circulator.  Electric lights were put in, too -- a single bulb for the rooms downstairs. The second-floor stairs are too decrepit to give much confidence in prowling up above. Besides, the last time I looked a critter had adopted the space, and left his mark in little piles.

  But outside the daffodils by the rock foundation bring a fresh look to the old place each year. I imagine a farmer or perhaps his wife put them in the ground, perhaps as late as the 1950s, possibly even earlier.  If so, that would make these old bulbs at least 60 years old and still growing strong.  I can't quite fathom what those farmers' lives were like in these hills and hollows, but it surely would have been a struggle some years to scratch a living from the land, especially after the chestnuts died off.  But I'm grateful to them for the apples that still provide bright red fruit every few years, and the daffodils that come up each spring, heralding the end of a long winter -- and sometimes a short one.


  1. Ah, yes Jack, you took me on the walk with you! I dare say the daffodils have learned to "lay low" because of the cold winds still whirling around on rainy days. I can feel the sun and see their bright faces even without the photo. But I thank you for the photos, especially the one where the tree is growing against the building (well house?). It too has found a nice sturdy support for those cold winds of winter. Please take another photo when Spring produces leaves. Thanks, and I enjoyed the walk!

  2. I was just sitting in my Raleigh back yard, listening to the different sounds the trees make in the wind. A westerly is blowing us some rain, I hope.... and I thought: we don't have any daffodils at our house in Meadows of Dan. Always, at every old house I've lived in (and I seem only to live in old houses) there are legacy bulbs, always some kind of daffodils, because they outlive their people. And we have none. We have some other things, but none of those, so we will add them, and in 2063, maybe people will remark on the old folks who planted.

  3. Steph: I think we ought to make an interbasin transfer of daffodils, from over here to over there. Seems right to me. And just think -- if your house was, oh, about 500 yards further west, your springs would drain into the Gulf of Mexico rather than Albemarle Sound!