Tulip time arrived without fanfare this year. Suddenly, there they were, next to the front door in all the grocery stores: cellophane-bound bundles of tender green leaves and tight-lipped buds, slivers of red and pink and orange peeking through. Six for $5, eight for $6, ten for $8, or get sixteen for $6 if you don't mind buying the blowsy ones past their prime, on last-chance markdown in Nova Scotia's trademarked buy-one-get-one style.
In my world, fresh flowers have their own line item in February. In the long, dark winter, they're a necessity, not a luxury; they're worth the trouble of double-bagging against the cold, tucking inside my jacket, walking swiftly home while a rogue stem drips onto my sweater. (Desperate times, and so on.)
At home, I trim the stems and plunk the flowers in an old juice jug. They smell of greenhouses, damp earth, the colour green, and hope. I keep watch over the next few days as they unfurl in the warmth; as the tight buds turn to lush flowers and the tender stems keep stretching, outreaching the neck of the vase.
(They say that tulips are the only flowers that keep growing once they've been picked. They say you should add a penny to the water to keep them from drooping.) (They say a lot of things.)
For all their beauty when fresh, I like tulips best when they're a little past their prime. They are beautiful in the beginning, but I love them more when their initial lushness has faded – when the petals begin to dry out and contract, and suddenly you can see the underlying structure, the lines and veins, and the colour seems to be concentrated. Backlit, the petals glow like stained glass.
A few days later I'll come home to find the petals scattered on the counter amid crumbs of pollen, and then it all begins again.