The days are shorter, and the bright, white sun is stingy with heat. This morning I drew in a lungful of cold, sharp air and knew that the time had come to plant tulip bulbs.
I almost didn’t order any bulbs this year, and it was because of voles. Those small, cunning, voracious eating machines had infiltrated my garden and were poised in subterranean comfort to attack anything I put into the ground. Thus it was that last spring I saw the beautiful tulips sprout, bud, and then literally vanish into the ground! All I could do was stare helplessly at the ruin of spring.
The sweet young promise
Of buds waiting to flower
Had turned into dust.
Well, spring came anyway, and no doubt the voles prospered and grew fat and sleek while I learned ways in which to block the little varmints. Still, even armed with knowledge, I shied away from the catalogues advertising tulips. Sorbet, Barcelona, Burning Heart… each tulip was more breathtaking than the next, but not for me their springtime magic. The voles had taught a bitter lesson.
But a spring without tulips? Over the months my resolve turned to jelly. After all, the tulip has been around for a long time, flourishing in parts of Asia, North Africa and Europe before being commercially grown during the Ottoman Empire where, according to a Persian legend, drops of love shed by a heartsick lover produced the first tulip. In spite of all the woes, the droughts, famines, wars, persecutions and disasters throughout history, tulips have gone to sleep in the winter only to bloom bright and hopeful in the spring.
So who was I to deny this ancient flower? Emperor Red and white Tuxedo tulips are in two of the packs I am now carrying to my carefully prepared garden bed, along with bulb food, watering can, and a hope that the voles are being traumatized by the net I have carefully spread under the earth to block their dinner. With luck I will have a blaze of color in the spring. On the heels of that thought comes another: these small, self-contained bulbs I am planting are not unlike my own projects and inspirations.
“Oh, come on!” I can almost hear the tulip bulbs groan. “Now she’s starting with her so-called homespun philosophy. We’ll never get this show on the road.”
But the idea is intriguing, and I play with it as I work. Because just as these bulbs need food, creativity needs to be stoked from time to time. I can’t count the number of times I’ve worked and re-worked an idea only to find it going from bad to worse. Then, when I’m ready to give into my mean-spirited mental voles, someone suddenly says, “You know, I like it…don’t give up on this!” And then there are small kindnesses, and thoughtful criticism, and a hefty dose of optimism and —all of which act like this bulb food I am sprinkling in the ground.
So I work and plot and cover my desk—or my sewing table—with a mess, and mutter and grumble until suddenly, almost unexpectedly, something clicks into place. And what was once a hopeless kernel of an idea flourishes, and that idea buds and bursts into flower, and all at once the world is full of possibilities!
Perhaps that really is one reason we all keep planting tulip bulbs in the fall.
Pushing clear of earth
Expecting only sunshine…
Those hoped-for flowers!