Living in a small town often means commuting a long distance to work somewhere else. Before I began freelancing, I drove about 90 miles round-trip to my university teaching job. While the commute itself sometimes bored me, the scenery on U.S. Highway 27 between LaGrange and Carrollton never, ever did.
It’s almost spring now. In the Deep South, spring gives us an ice storm one day and tornadoes the next. This year’s early warm weather has brought out the daffodils a little early. I love watching them pop up along U.S. 27’s shoulders.
When you see daffodils, you can safely assume that someone put them there. Unlike seed plants, daffodils and other bulbs have to be dug up and replanted. In order to get them from where they are to where they’re going to be, someone has to move them at the right time of year (late spring, after blooms and foliage have died back), transport them to a suitable location, and plant them.
Most of the daffodils we see along the roadside make their homes in someone’s yard. Sometimes they’re in neat flower beds. Sometimes, as is the case with my own yard, they’re randomly planted in a sunny patch of lawn to surprise everyone, year after year, with unexpected yellows and creams in a sea of brittle brown grass.
But what about those planted in or near a roadside ditch—without a house nearby?
Just because you don’t see a house doesn’t mean one hasn’t ever been there. Daffodils stay underground most of the year. Once they’ve finished blooming, their leaves die back and don’t reappear for another year. Old houses get demolished, and their sites fade into and gradually out of memory. Yet the bulbs embedded around them come back every spring thereafter—house or no house.
Plant ghosts, I call them. They don’t know the house and the people are gone. They come back because this is their home. In every sense of the word, they are rooted here.
The daffodils pictured above are very simple, single-cup daffodils, an old variety we often see around old houses. They’re about 12” tall, and amazingly hardy. Judging from what’s left of the house, and from the size of the flower clumps, these daffs have been here for about 50 years.
Behind the thick, overgrown privet hedge, nearly 20 feet down the bank from the southbound lanes of U.S. 27 in Carroll County, appears the faint outline of a house—or what used to be a house, anyway. Out in front: these happy yellow bells.
I wonder why the last residents left. I wonder if they left in a hurry. I wonder who decided to let a once-sturdy farmhouse simply fold itself back into the earth.
I wonder if, on leaving, they took one long, last look toward the flower bed. I wonder if they wept for the flowers waiting beneath its surface, for the daffodils that always mean “home.”
Photo: “Daff Nipped by Frost” (Carroll County, Georgia – 2012)
NOTE: An earlier version of this post appeared at Forgotten Plants & Places on 25 February 2012.
© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)