Saturday, April 21, 2007
Tiptoe thru the Skagit Valley Tulips with me
It's tulip time in the Great Northwest, and those of you in other parts of the world--unless it's Holland--probably don't know exactly what that means. Visitors come from all over the globe to see the Skagit Valley's fields of brilliant blooms, in colors so shockingly vibrant that your immediate reaction is to thank Hashem for the ability to see them. For our family, a trek to The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival (April 1-30) is an annual event. Over the years, the children have perhaps had more than their fill of their mother's insistence that they squat down level with the blooms in the bouncy clay unique to the fields for my incessant photos. They used to enjoy this family outing, picking up the stray decapitated tulip to make bouquets, running down the lanes between the brilliant stripes of color, and cheerfully poking their heads through the plywood stand-ups of dutch maidens, with tulips behind, stretching in eye-popping rows to the horizon. As they got older, they'd temper their grousing if they could bring a friend, and lately, they grumble and consider the opportunity to view this most beautiful and miraculous demonstration of Hashem's generosity as merely my cruel need for them to pose for photos. (Happily, my eldest daughter has gained renewed enthusiasm for the tulips, since living in New York, where the most picturesque sights in her Midtown neighborhood are the mobs of women snatching up dresses at H & M to sell later on EBay.)
Last Sunday, my husband cajoled our son to accompany us and some family friends on our 2007 Tulip Trek. The hour ride from our home northward is spectacular, with stands of majestic firs, winding rivers, fields, mountains and even a pocket where you can count on freakishly horrid weather before emerging on the other side to sunshine. Once at tulip headquarters in Mt. Vernon, picked a couple years ago by Rand McNalley as "the most liveable town in America," we followed the eager hoardes beyond the modest city limits--its 1920s fading storefronts only half-Yuppified--to the wide open fields. Straight, two-lane roads criss-cross the terrain, which is hospitable to tulips as it is low-lying and often floods in the winter, leaving fertile beige mud with huge air bubbles trapped just beneath the surface. Walking on this earth is springy, in the most peculiar way, with each step giving and then popping you up.
Our first stop was Tulip Town, which, when we began our tulip mania a decade ago, was open fields with free entry, a few porta-potties and a food trailer near the parking aisles just off the road. It was a spectacular day, temperatures near 60, with the sun strong through fluffy white puff-clouds. They say that photographing the tulips is better in overcast, as the bright sun makes harsh shadows, but the happiness of the light made the day all the more festive. Tulip Town is now an "attraction," with three-dollar admission, all sorts of confections and fair-food, vendors of artwork and kites and crafts, and the centerpiece--a long building with huge sprays of each type of tulip, which may be purchased for delivery in September as bulbs to plant in your garden.
Tulip Town is the business of Dutch immigrants, the DeGoede family, passed down through generations now. (http://www.tuliptown.com/history.htm) At the very entrance to the fields, prominent from the first time we visited, is a mural on the side of a building of the fields in bloom, with a banner proclaiming, "To God Goes the Glory." The present DeGoedes running the farm, Anthony and Jeannete, were featured in a big article in the Seattle Times because they have created an official International Tulip Peace Garden. Jeannete explained that they are simple people who don't really understand politics but disdain war, and they felt that a garden flying 16 flags and displaying 60 varieties of tulips could be their statement along the lines of motorist Rodney King's, "Can't we all just get along?" In the garden is a replica of DeGoede Village Windmill, and a mini Statue of Liberty. The Peace Garden is too hokey to express, but in its noble purpose, sweet as the wholesome families who come to pose their children amongst the flowers.
Then there are the tulip fields...the most magnificent flowers with their variety of shapes, richness of colors and vast stripes of hue splashing across the landscape. With the sunshine illuminating them, the petals glisten, becoming translucent, softly bobbing in the crisp breeze. But the sun is so warm, no one needs a coat. The rows of red flowers (inside each a pattern of bright yellow and black, unseen) give way to canary yellow, then pink, then dark purple, nearly black. Tulips' petals can be fringed, as if clipped with nail scissors into short tines. They can have pointy petals, striped, or two or three-toned. The magnificence of each flower is only enhanced when you peek inside to discover its uniquely patterned secret.
After a walk around the fields--perhaps a mile--and a spin around the displays, we get in the car again to visit Roozengarde, the second major tulip destination in the Skagit Valley. Roozengarde is famed for its beautifully planted display gardens, where the bulbs they sell are arranged so that they continuously bloom during the festival (there are early, mid and late-blooming varieties). Amongst the tulips are planted hyacinths, whose heady fragrances are so thick you gasp. And daffodils, in startlingly delicate and happy configurations (double, triple, oranges, creams, two-toned, whites--and traditional yellows of all sorts). Roozengarde also has a windmill, and lovely old rail-fencing that provides a beautiful backdrop. They have the concessions too--kettle corn, hot dogs, and of course their own area for selling tulip bulbs. My husband picks out and purchases them--250 bulbs this year--and then takes me through the gardens showing me his selections. He knows my favorites are the parrot tulips--with their twisted shapes and wild marbled colors that have been induced by giving the plants an actual virus.
As you can see, I'm wild about tulips. And nothing brings me so close to ecstacy as a sunny day with my family and good friends walking the tulip fields and snapping photos. I know that the breathtaking pictures I take are interchangeable, year-to-year--you've seen one amazingly gorgeous flower, you've seen 'em all. But I can't stop taking pictures because I just want to capture the beauty, capture the moment--I don't want to ever lose the exhilaration of spring in full flower, of life in full-bloom.