Springtime is rejuvenating, and little enthralls me the way a visit to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival does. I can well understand Tulipomania, the Dutch phenomenon in the 1630s that led to wild speculative prices for particularly hoarded hybrids. Here in the Northwest, many await the opening of the tulip cups with similar enthusiasm, and this year we've waited longer than I can remember--Al Gore's Global Warming brought us an icier winter that delayed the fields' splendor nearly a month.
But we who consult Tulip Maps like astrologers plot the planets were overjoyed to find this weekend peak. And so my husband, son and I got in the car, singing along with oldies, and drove the hour north of Seattle to the Mount Vernon flats.
Unfortunately, pent-up eagerness for the flowers' bloom brought out masses of fans of fringed, parrot, Triumph and double (a great number of them, for reasons I can't really understand, East Indian, many in sparkly saris and other delightfully-hued garb). Out in the fields, where narrow roads transverse open acres, cars were lined up helplessly, stopped dead for quarter-hours at a time. We were among them, frustrated. But quiet about it.
The sun wove between the clouds and haze, and even infrequent advancement was bearable on a Sunday where your fellow traffic victims join you in such a pleasant purpose. Admittedly, Skagit Valley is far less hospitable in its April display than it had been in the early years we attended, 1996, 7 and 8. In those days, more farmers opened up their fields freely. Cars parked alongside the fields or on the host's turf; there were no fluorescent-orange-vested traffic directors, no ticket booths, no merchants offering $6 packs of tulip-themed paper napkins, lawn pinwheels or imported-from-China trivets painted with quaint European street scenes.
There was an art show in a a barn (which continues) and a grower who let kids pet his tame alpacas. More family farms carried on the Dutch flower-growing traditions, and welcomed yours to stroll into the field, gawk at the rows of color, and chat a bit.
Now, only two farms remain, and they've made tulip-admiration into almost as big a business as bulb-vending. Parking lots are cordoned off into rows, and entering the fields or displays requires a fee, $4 at Roosengaarde, and $5 at Tulip Town. Cut flowers and especially, bulbs, offered with "deals" like a fifth bunch free, or 20 extra bulbs when ordering others, are for sale by plentiful clerks. Kiosks for Kettle Corn, corn dogs, nachos and other fair fare provide a pungency more conducive to nausea than communing with nature.
But pass the distractions and there are the flower fields. Even when lined with tourists, God provides there a breathtaking spectacle. Astonishing rainbow rows of intense color bring smiles, gratitude and praise. Families squat, smiling, arms linked for the camera, among the sturdy stems, vibrant bowls of vivid petals enveloping them, joining them together in exhilaration.
Everyone is snapping photos, eager to capture the intensity, the brilliance, the astounding beauty. I've made the tulip pilgrimage many times; how many ways can you photograph a flower? "Say cheese!" "Don't move!" my verdant subject cooperates and I giggle, grateful for digital cameras and giant photo storage. It's all here for the imbibing, the enjoying.