Photo by Ashley Fox-Smith
“The early bird catches the worm,” cheerful types are fond of saying when they catch you doing something you’d rather not be doing. Well, I’ve been getting up pretty early for years, and so far I haven’t seen much evidence of this apocryphal worm on any given weekday when, an hour before dawn, you can find me blundering around the kitchen looking for something to feed the kids.
Twenty-five years ago, if you had told me that I would be the sort of person who voluntarily gets out of bed in pre-dawn darkness—to exercise, no less—I would’ve assumed that you were a poor judge of character or else had me confused with somebody different. Indeed, having once been the kind of college student who failed to make it to the dining room in time for lunch, let alone breakfast, I’m still not comfortable with the idea of being a “morning person” and never thump the alarm at 4:30 am without briefly thinking that I’ve gotten mixed up in someone else’s reality.
How do I cling to the last vestige of my youthful (read, slothful) identity? By staunchly defending my right to sleep in on weekend mornings until my name turns into Rip van Fox-Smith. So it’s possible that I sulked last Saturday, when my wife dragged me from bed the wrong side of 7 am, handed me a shovel, and told me to get in the car. Because she needed a spotter.
Yes, it’s the time of year when the emergence of thousands of narcissus bulbs leaves me with two choices: A: sacrifice Saturday mornings to aiding and abetting my wife as she tries to acquire a specimen of every bulb growing in the state, or B: spend spring alone as a bulb widower. Option A involves trundling along rural roads at low speeds (the earlier the better), casing ditches, driveways, and homesites for any sign of the fragrant, pale-yellow blooms that my wife is obsessed with. Often my presence on these trips is deemed indispensable on account of Ashley’s less-than-perfect eyesight, although her uncanny ability to spot a single campernelle four hundred yards from the roadside while driving by at seventy miles per hour brings to mind that old saying about there being none so blind as those that do not wish to see.
Once a target has been identified she’ll clamber through barbed wire fences and past “Posted” and “Beware of the Dog” and “Trespassers Will Be Shot” yard signs to reach the object of her desire, delicately separating a few bulbs with a sharp-shooter shovel before sauntering back to the car. Being a non-confrontational, generally law-abiding citizen, these acts of casual trespass make me hideously anxious. So I end up hopping around on the roadside, wringing my hands and willing her to dig faster.
Of course there’s never any trouble. Oftentimes her bulb hunting expeditions concentrate on the “ghost gardens” around abandoned homesites, where each March, the footprint of some long-burned farmhouse is revealed by the plantings of bulbs that sprout from former garden beds. On the rare occasion when Ashley does come face to face with a landowner, she just puts on a big smile and her broadest Louisiana-country-girl accent and compliments them on the fertility of their loam until, won over, they lead her to some hitherto unseen treasure trove of rare butter-and-eggs daffodils planted by Great Aunt Ada on the back forty while I fidget awkwardly by the roadside. Generally we return with more bulbs than anyone can possibly plant, although Ashley is doing her best to disprove this. And as much as I complain about being hauled from bed to serve as getaway driver for these expeditions, they’re not a bad way to start a spring Saturday. And since they get started so early, we’re generally back home before breakfast anyway. No sign of any worms so far, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled.