by Mimi Hedl
The March wind blows. The sun shines. This feels like normal March weather. I feel grateful. I don’t know if March has come in like a lion or a lamb, nor do I think those adages hold anymore, if they ever did. Still, we have fun parroting the thoughts.
I wear my cozy winter jacket to go up to the once orchard to pick a bouquet. Ice Follies, an early narcissus, bloom. We bought six bulbs from McClure and Zimmerman in 1991, a dollar a bulb. The receipt lays at the end (or beginning) of the 1½”-thick folder I’ve kept over the years to record plants/seeds that came to live on Strawdog. Up until then, my mind could’t concentrate on much more than figuring out how to make the homesteading experience work. It took nine years before I relaxed, somewhat, and began to dream.
I had a propagation bed back then. Still do, in fact. It measures 3’ wide and about 100’long. In the upper half I planted varieties of iris, in the lower half, narcissus. I labeled each variety as I planted them, giving adequate space to expand each planting. In the autumn of 2000, I dug up over a hundred Ice Follies, enough to begin carpeting the orchard with spriing. Ron used the sharp shooter to open a hole, and I scooted around on my knees and plopped a bulb in each hole.
We’d seen a photograph in some gardening magazine of a couple standing in back of their field of daffodils. As we planted, Ron said, “How long do you think it’ll take before our field looks like theirs?” I don’t know what I said, but I should’ve said, “About twenty years.”
Walking up to the field, to pick a bouquet, as early as I can remember, and to stand at the back of the field, like a statue. The sun warmed my face as the March wind blew. I stood there smiling, to honor the memory. The mail man drove by and I waved. I hoped the scene looked as beautiful to him as it felt to me.
My eyes began to rove over the soil, noting grey-headed cone flower seedlings, black-eyed Susan’s, asters, coreopsis, and then thistles! Thistles from Hollis, the cattle man to my west, from his field. My fields sit down wind from his. Grrr! That means I inherit everything from him. Last summer his entire field sat ablaze with this admittedly beautiful thistle. A rich purple color, and scores of butterflies enjoying the nectar. I knew what their presence portended. I felt sick.
My young neighbor, Jeremy, came by soon after. He takes care of my pasture, the bottom land, hunts in our woods, and in return supplies me with wood. We cooperate. I asked if I couldn’t do something about Hollis letting those thistles go to seed. It seemed irresponsible. Jeremy said, “Just look at the way he lets his field run down. He grazes way too many cattle. It’s all about money to him. He doesn’t see what he’s doing to the land.” He went on to say, legally, he could do whatever he wanted. I said I might say something to Hollis next time he came by. Jeremy said, “Good luck.”
Well Jeremy beat me to the draw. Jeremy goes to the coffee shop to jaw with all the locals. One day Hollis came in. And Jeremy didn’t mince words. “Poor Mimi’s out there digging thistles out of her fields. They’re all coming from you, Hollis.” Jeremy has an engaging way. It would take a hard nose to get mad at him. Hollis acted surprised about my problem. A week later he came out on his tractor and spent a week brush hogging the field.
Great, I thought, only too late. The thistles had already gone to seed. No way to stop the seed from germinating. My evil side wanted to save all the thistles I dig up, (about fifty after I picked my bouquet, and that doesn’t scratch the surface) wrap them in a large box, and give them to Hollis. Maybe with a black bow. I know I won’t do that, but I want him to see the result of his carelessness. This summer, when the thistles come on, before they bloom, I’ll call Hollis and kindly, I hope, say, “Hey, if you mow your field now, maybe we can begin to fight those thistles.”
In order to get along out here in the hinterland, we have to stay cautious. Hollis comes into the art gallery in town with his wife and talks to me when I have gallery duty. Maybe I’ll invite them to sit with a glass of wine and talk about invasive weeds after he finishes a glass. I’ll think about a non-aggressive approach to ask him to cut his grass early. Maybe by the time the thistles begin to form heads, I’ll have an answer. I will meditate on the problem.
The fire feels welcoming, the house toasty. We’ll have a few cold nights, in the high 20s though, so everything should survive. The bouquet looks happy on my altar, the fragrance filling the house with echoes of spring.
*I sent a photograph to my friends at the wildflower nursery. Sooner or later they’ll get back with me and I’ll report the name.
As for the early yellow narcissus, the horticulturist said her best guess, Dutch Master, because of the size of the trumpet to the petals.