Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Daffodil Path

When I was born, my parents brought me home to a big, old farmhouse surrounded by a forest of huge oak trees. There was a meadow a short distance from the house that, in the spring, became a carpeted path of yellow blooms -- daffodils, the vestige of generations past, who had done what they could to beautify their little corner of the world.

Another piece of history, and I'll try not to lose you here: daffodils, the most common name for any and all varietals of the Narcissus family, are not native, in any form, to North America. Varieties still grow wild in the Ukraine, and in Wales; they have always been common in East Asia; and the ones most familiar to us are native to Spain and Portugal. The Dutch began cultivating the bulbs they gathered in their travels all over the world, and daffodils were among the first.

Last month, we took a little weekend trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee with some friends of ours. We had a great time with all of our little children (all total, 5 of them, under 6 years old) doing touristy things, swimming in the indoor pool, and playing together. But for me, the highlight of the trip was our foray into the wilderness. The weather was dreary, so our wanderings only went so far as the paved roads would take us, but in the Smokies, you don't have to go far to feel really remote.

I noticed, even out in the woods, there are daffodils all over the place. But they're not native. So I looked a little closer, and if I was lucky, I would spy the crumbled remains of a centuries-old homestead. The people were long gone, the house had fallen down, and even the old stone chimney had tumbled to the ground, but the daffodils remained. Because that's the other thing about daffodils. They will outlast us.

When I was studying European history in preparation for my first "grand tour" of Europe, I found myself feeling envious of all those old places: palaces and cathedrals, monasteries and libraries, towns, even roads, that were older than anything we would ever find in our young nation.

Was I ever wrong. What about places like these? I would say they're even older than the Magna Carta, the paper it was written on, and the building good old King John's uppity barons were in when they proposed it.

And then there are the "newer" places you can find here in the mountains:

Thankfully, a few homesteads like this one have been preserved. But when you walk through, you can feel the pioneer spirit of the people that built it all. You can see the marks in the hand-hewn logs and feel the fatigue of spent muscles as each was carefully shaped to form the ever-important shelters for people and livestock. You can hear the rushing water in the background, hike to the cornfields, follow the low walls of moss-covered river-rock used to mark property boundaries, smell the sweetness of the pure mountain air, and understand why they arrived at this place, and then decided to stay.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my legacy. Even if it's just daffodils, I hope I leave something behind that brings a little joy, a little hope, a little brightness to someone's life. It's a question, I think, we all need to ask ourselves. What will you leave behind?


  1. Beautiful. As long as I live, try as hard as I might, I will never be able to write like this. I don't know what other legacies you'll leave, but the poetic grace with which you define your world will be a nice start.

  2. I am not toatlly sure what I will leave behind. Hopefully my imprint on my children. My mother, practically is my grandmother, and I am just like my mom... I won'der who started it all, because they are still around.

    I was going to tell you, according to one of our landscape architecture friends, that the old settlements used daffodils to mark the graves of their families.

    This way they could always find them each year, even if they couldn't afford a head stone. So i am sure they're still very close to that place.

  3. Beautifully I want to go exploring in the Smokies. Someday!

    You almost scared me to death with your comment about having your tickets to U2! I immediately went to my Inbox and found that tickets were going on sale in my area that WEEK! I was able to snag two GM tickets - it's always been a dream of mine to be that close to my boys. Have fun at your concert and I'll have fun at mine. I'm sure we'll hear about it from each other.

  4. I too love your prose (that's why I keep coming back), but the photography in the post just made me happy! Pictures five through eight could have been done by a professional. The most striking was the sixth one. I love the composition, the light streaming through onto the beautiful rough hewn wood and the leaves inside. Simple lovely.

  5. Your blog is definitely something that brings joy, hope, and brightness to my life. Love ya.

  6. Beautifully written and beautifully captured. The photography is beautiful, it makes me ache to come on a little trip with you and visit those same old places. My neck of the woods is even "younger" than yours and such wonderful old places with character and story behind them are few and far between. There is just something so captivating about these places...

  7. Awww~! I loved this! And you remind me so much me 5 kids under 6! I'm so glad you go exploring with them and teach them all of these awesome things! Great mom! Jenni


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