In my rounds of filling the bird feeders last weekend, I found myself looking down a lot. There were green shoots pushing out in places where the sun hits longest and the snow cover is gone. And that simple sight has always amazed me. Filled me with a wonder that is more tangible than Higgs boson or white smoke coming out a chimney. The programming in plants is such a crazy mystery to me still; despite knowing a fair amount about the mechanics of the process, I remain in awe.
The determination of the tulip or daffodil or hyacinth to remember its color and shape and size all winter long in the dark and cold is a wonder. The purple tulip is always purple. And the yellow daffodil, yellow. And the hyacinth, pink, with its own shapes. How do they do it? And to have such a very short time to impress us, not rebloom, but just give us that shout out of color and joy and then fade away. Year after year after year from a single bulb.
My neighbor appeared at my door two weeks ago with a clear glass vase, short and wide and filled with tulip bulbs, tight and colorless. This year, she said, she wanted to get ahead of spring. I watered them as required and put them on a table to get some sun not too direct, as instructed. And then I kinda forgot them.
Last weekend I was working on a project and I needed the whole table downstairs, so I picked up the vase and saw a hint of color buried in the green shoots. It was yellow. It made me smile because, of all the colors I choose for myself, yellow is never first. Then I set them on a different table so I could spread out my work.
The other day, when I came home from work, that vase and those flowers were demanding attention. The nearly dozen bulbs in the small space were all reaching to grow tall and they were all yellow at once. Not fully grown, but you could see what they would become clearly now. And the happy color checked me again. The yellow seemed happy, instead of all the things my high school English teacher had had us uncover in the prize-winning novel, "All the Kings Men." Yellow had always seemed too demanding after that. Too bold, surreal, brassy, body-waste-like. Page by page we had dissected that book and yellow became the antithesis of joy, a fake color after that. When people would say, 'Doesn't that yellow house/skirt/flower look happy?' I alone would know better. It was a sinister color. The pretense of cheery, but not cheery itself.
But each day now, when I come home and see the tulips just a little taller in their vase, their color looks unmistakably happy. I have been conflicted by this a lot. Make of my mental state what you will.
I think it has to do with my grandchildren.
I find some of my hangups/biases/prejudices difficult to explain to them. One grandson calls yellow my "nemesis." He is eight years old and a lovely but odd child. His hair is too long and he wears glasses that are misshapen from his many quiet misadventures. He loves Legos and science and every gross bathroom joke ever told. He is very smart and keeps switching schools in Salt Lake City because his parents know he needs to be challenged. I want to cut his shaggy hair and I tell him I am not interested in the bathroom humor and I cook him bacon and he helps me fill the bird feeders.
Unlike the spring flowers, there are many factors that will influence his full growth, and yet I can already see parts of what he will become. He will be like his father who was an odd child, minus the glasses. He will be kind at his core. He will be a quiet human, learning all he can and not being the shiny top of the class but just being the top of the class. He will be funny but in that smart, dry way, and he won't scream his funny story, he'll just tell it.
There is that whole debate of nature/nurture and in humans, I think, it comes in equal parts. We tend to overlook the nature those traits and qualities that are hard wired/coded in DNA that pop up just the way they are supposed to. And the quirky traits that make you say, "Oh your laugh, (smile, grumpy face) is just like your father's (grandmother's, great aunt's)" turns out to be true. It is just like that because it was coded to be.
So this week, as the tulips reach over the top of the vase, I find I am embracing their yellowness. They are announcing spring, just as they have been programmed to do. And they look downright cheery this Sunday in the Park....
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.