The Dark Side of the Wild

The shriek woke me out of a sound sleep, and then I heard a second one. I’ve heard these other years, but it’s still chilling enough to make me pull the covers up over my head. If I had house guests from the city, they’d have dialed 911 on their cells.

I know, though, that I live next to a woodsy area where raccoons, owls, rabbits and coyotes hang out. I used to think the dreadful sounds were raccoons fighting, and sometimes I think it is. But this spring I think the coyotes are cleaning out the rabbits one by one. And rabbits can produce human-like screams when attacked.

Those cute little critters have overtaken my yard the last few years, forcing me to fence one of the vegetable beds devoted to their favorite crops. Easy job. What was more difficult was watching them eat the crocuses and tulips down to green stubs every spring. They turned up their little button noses at the daffodils.

This spring the crocuses, like Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy’s football one more time, somehow gathered enough strength and courage to push themselves up out of the dirt and they’re blossoming! Dark purples, some yellows, a little lavender, so lovely–the first of spring flowers in my yard, along with a few daffodils. Are the rabbits gone? I’ve only seen one in my yard in the last few weeks–and I haven’t seen him since the shriek in the night.

Toshiba Digital Camera

Crocuses nestled up against some hyachinths

Living on the edge of the wild is not always as idyllic as it may seem. My stately old madrona next to the water develops a disease and rots away. An old crow takes several days to die out behind the garage. I find blue baby bird shells in unusual places. Once I found a dead snake in the bird bath, partially eaten.

My sister also lives away from the city. Several years ago, she described her horror as she watched a neighbor’s young cat being picked up and carried away by an eagle. She, an artist, resorts to the canvas instead of a keyboard, and did a striking portrait of the experience–angry black slashes against a blue/gray sky.

Not always lovely, no.

But still. The bright crocus colors overwhelm the darkness. We’re in that season of rebirth, of new life. The following quote, from Parker Palmer in a colder part of the country, pretty much sums it up from a different angle:

“There is a hard truth to be told: before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck. I have walked in the early spring through fields that will suck your boots off, a world so wet and woeful it makes you yearn for the return of ice. But in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are being created.”

Yellow Flocks

Last spring I realized my daffodils had gotten completely out of hand. I have a nice mix of different varieties, but they had grown out of their little clumps and were scampering back and forth all over my garden areas. After they bloomed and died back, I spent a lot of time in the early summer digging and thinning. I gave little bags of bulbs to anyone who even thought about approaching my back door.

Toshiba Digital Camera

A good friend told me an old family story about his grandfather who grew up in Cornwall, England. He was an acclaimed runner, and in the spring he sometimes ran through whole fields of daffodils in order to get from one place to another. As he ran, the story went, he kicked off the blossoms of any in his path.

Yellow trio in my neighbors' yard: oregon grape, daffodils, and forsythia, all blooming at once

Yellow trio in my neighbors’ yard: oregon grape, daffodils, and forsythia, all blooming at once

Ann Lovejoy in her column in early November of last year told another daffodil story. Many years ago Mary Sam, a healer and granddaughter of Chief Sealth, lived in a log cabin on Bainbridge Island on what was then known as “Welfare wagon road” (near Phelps Road and Ellingsen today). Years later a neighbor, Dick Krutch, noticed that she had planted daffodils around where her cabin had been and also around the neighborhood.

Krutch decided that if this woman made such an effort for an old road and cabin, he would like to continue the effort. Over the years he has donated over 100,000 daffodils for the island’s neighborhoods. If you visit Bainbridge Island this time of year, you can’t miss them along the roadsides. Dedicated volunteers have kept the project going.

This variety, the “King Alfred Type” bulbs are a large, hearty, golden blossom. The original King Alfred daffodils were developed in England in the late 1800’s. Lovejoy said that since Port Townsend had a British consulate with gardens, Pacific Northwest gardeners were among the first Americans to grow this sturdy variety that can live for generations.

However, this true King Alfred daffodil is not sold today. Over time, the name “King Alfred” became a generic name for all the bigger “yellow trumpet” varieties. Some botanists believe that nearly all the original King Alfred bulbs in North America were wiped out by a viral disease by the mid-1900’s.

The only true King Alfred variety may be found in old yards that date back to the early 1900’s. A few Dutch bulb growers continue to grow them in order to keep them from becoming extinct, but they’re rarely sold.

Since my house dates back to the early 1900’s (and some bulbs I planted 40 years ago came from a yard of that age, also), do I have the original King Alfred in my yard? I like to think so. Regardless, I enjoy all those spots of bright yellow and remember that closing line of Wordsworth’s poem that I memorized in grade school:

Greeters at my back door

Greeters at my back door

“And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”