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   Feb 02

Waiting for the Harbingers of Spring,Crocuses, We Embrace Them in Prose.

crocus-2072985_1280Thoughts on the plucky crocus… determined, colorful, the harbinger of spring. We need to know you better.

 

For over 60 years my dreary mid February days have been graced by a small visitor about whom I, too slothful and sadly oblivious, have known too little.

Abashed, this year I decided, belatedly, to greet my little guest in proper style, not with just a nod and cursory thanks… but knowledgeable, the better to render suitable homage and ample gratitude. In short, no longer to glance at and pass by but to know my annual visitor as some dear friend, valued and appreciated.

This year, therefore, in its too brief time, I intend to know the crocus better, and to salute its graceful presence which has, despite my neglect, always shed its color and bold courage on me, and millions more.

Some facts about the Crocus longiflorus

The crocus (plural crocuses or croci) is a genus of perennial flowering plants. It is native to a large area including coastal and subalpine central and southern Europe including, interestingly enough, the islands of the Aegean; also North Africa and the Middle East, across Central Asia to Western China. In short, it has moved, by inches, a vast area to colonize, its sway far more than Rome’s and Alexander’s, Tamerlane’s and Genghis Khan’s…. combined. And all with our hardly noticing.

The genus Crocus is placed botanically in the iris family (Iridaceae). It grows from corms, which constitute its handy food supply, providing what it needs to get through the winter and the energy it requires to push through snow and ice, and so be present, timely, to astonish us and cause the thought, “Spring is just around the corner!” Then smile.

There are dozens of crocus species; my sources widely differing in just how many. One said 80, another 300. It seems my experts need to know the crocus better, too. Perhaps only the croci know…. In any case, some 30 varieties are cultivated, all distinguished (whether of the fall or spring blooming type) by three stamens. Three things secure our attention to the croci: when they arrive… and how they look… and the flavorful uses to which (particularly the autumn blooming variety) can be put.

Crocus plants, determined to be seen, either arrive (in the spring) before any other flowering plants…… or (in the autumn) after all the other flowering plants. This forces us to see them as they are, without distractions or competitors. When the croci are here, it is just them… and us. It’s the way they like it.

Its colors

The first thing we notice about the crocus is its shoots, rising up, inexorably, through mud and snow and ice, determined to show these symbols of the past that the better, warmer future is on its way. To no other flower do we pay such close attention as it pushes up towards the sun, but this one speaks to us of the springtime soon to come… or (in the autumn variety) urges us to fast prepare for the certainty of winter, close at hand.

Either way, spring or fall, the crocus dazzles us with its enormous array of colors… of which lilac, mauve, yellow and white predominate. Don’t just glance and rush distracted on your way, as most people do, seeing so little. You need to bend down and look carefully…. for the crocus delights in holding back some aspect of its hues, until you stop, stoop, and take a minute, patient, to scrutinize… and truly see.

The useful crocus, flavorful, medicinal.

You can, if hungry, eat crocus bulbs. You can boil them, bake or cook. But it is the crocus (saffron) that is the most utilitarian. Its snout with stamens is valuable in medicine, seasoning… and even dye. This crocus variety is the most cultivated (with Spain the leader) as a savoury spice. It can easily cost $1 for one gram. This means, too, that saffron is worth counterfeiting… and people do, substituting the far cheaper tumeric (a good spice but no challenge) for saffron, the most expensive spice on earth.

Saffron has a bitter-spicy taste and a pungent smell. In the Middle East particularly it is used for meat, fish, seafood and rice. It must be used alone (for it does not mix well) and should only be used in very small quantities. If you over use… you can easily spoil your dish, for in larger quantities, saffron delivers an unpleasant, bitter taste… and a very irritated eater.

By the way, should you wish to try this spice… do not use just any crocus to do so. Proper saffron, the king of spices, can easily be mixed with meadow saffron, which is very poisonous. I wonder how many bargain hunting saffron fanciers discovered this… too late?

All this is worth knowing, but this spice derives from the fall flowering crocus… and this story must focus on the spring variety… for it is that I pass every late winter day, until now in ignorance. It is also this variety which has caused poets, mostly pedestrian, to put pen to paper… and create a paean… though their sentiments are perhaps greater than their poetical abilities.

Arguably the most famous poem ever written about the crocus is by Harriet Beecher Stowe (d. 1896). Here’s what Abraham Lincoln said of her when they met in 1862: “So, you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war.” (The book, of course, is “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, published 1852).

She uses the crocus as a metaphor for resurrection in her poem “The Crocus.” (Publication date unknown.)

Beneath the sunny autumn sky, With gold leaves dropping round, We sought, my little friend and I, The consecrated ground, Where, calm beneath the holy cross, O’er shadowed by sweet skies, Sleeps tranquilly that youthful form, Those blue unclouded eyes.

In blue and yellow from its grave Springs up the crocus fair, And God shall raise those bright blue eyes, Those sunny waves of hair. Not for a fading summer’s morn, Not for a fleeting hour, But for an endless age of bliss, Shall rise our heart’s dear flower.

***

Such certainties the Victorians possessed, which we do not share. We know the crocus will come again… but are less sure than they about the return of our lamented loved ones or their eternal bliss.

Still, I can be sure about the return of the crocus, year in, year out. It is good, in our world of turbulence and disturbing changes, to know that this reassuring event will recur, something we can count on and look forward to.

In a moment or two, I shall step out to quaff the frigid air for it is winter still. I have here been incased too long… and on my way I shall surely take an extended moment to consult the crocus’ upward arc. Confident, It looks to the sun…. as I do, too… this hardy pioneer promising me, yet again, that spring — and warmth — and new life, too, all these are coming soon, mine to cherish yet again and gladly so.

* * * * *

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
About The Author

Dr. Jeffrey Lant is known worldwide. He started in the media business when he was 5 years old, a Kindergartner in Downers Grove, Illinois, publishing his first newspaper article. Since then Dr. Lant has earned four university degrees, including the PhD from Harvard. He has taught at over 40 colleges and universities and is quite possibly the first to offer satellite courses. He has written over 50 books, thousands of articles and been a welcome guest on hundreds of radio and television programs. He has founded several successful corporations and businesses including his latest at …writerssecrets.com

 

His memoirs “A Connoisseur’s Journey” has garnered nine literary prizes that ensure its classic status. Its subtitle is “Being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck, and joy.” A good read by this man of so many letters. Such a man can offer you thousands of insights into the business of becoming a success. Connect with Dr. Lant at www.drjeffreylant.com

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