Spring beauty sown in the golden days of fall

Red and black squirrels scamper across my yard with acorns in their mouths. I watch them scrape out a hole, hide their bounty, and leap away, scattering the fallen sassafras leaves. Perhaps during an above-freezing January day they will sniff out their cache of hickory nuts and acorns, and feast on stored sunshine.

I am also digging holes, but my treasure is clothed in papery brown skin.

Bags of daffodil, crocus, scilla, and tulip bulbs arrived today. Shovel in one hand, a basket of bulbs in the other, I wander around the yard like the squirrels. I sink my shovel into the dirt near the chicken coop and plop in a tear-shaped bulb. Beneath the pin oak, I merely slit the ground and drop in the scilla kernels.

I plant bulbs with the eye of a quiltmaker - sprinkling blue and splashing yellow for contrast. I aim for a drift of color floating beneath our rhododendrons and trees.

Over the past two decades, my husband and I have planted hundreds of daffodils, as well as other bulbs, on our farm. No matter how modest our income, we've always bought at least a few dozen bulbs in the fall. Rows of golden trumpets line our half-mile driveway. Clumps of cream and yellow glow in a field ringed by pines.

Across Pleasant Hill, narcissi shimmer like shooting stars. Near our house, a wave of blue scillas ripples from the foundation and into the surrounding woods, where the blue mingles with purple and white violets.

Sometimes when friends come to help empty the box of bulbs, they plant surprises. In spring I have found daffodils circling the pump down in the blueberry bog and snowdrops scattered like pearls near the goat pasture.

I try to remember where these different plantings exist when I work my way around the yard and toward the barn. I know that this year's offering might emerge next to crocus that I had forgotten about during the summer days that separate April flowers from fields of goldenrod.

But no matter where I hide my bulbs, I know that come spring, their bright petals will nourish my spirit in the same way a buried acorn provides winter provisions for my bushy-tailed friends.

As I brush away leaves and slip my last bulb into the dirt, a squirrel scolds me from a sassafras limb, where red leaves flutter around him.

I hope he will leave my buried treasure alone, and next spring we can both savor the beauty sown during these golden days of fall.

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