It is the 21st century, and yet, reminiscent of the 17th century, I am intoxicated with tulip fever. The merchants and nobleman of the United Provinces, now present day Holland, initially became infected around 1570, with the arrival of the tulip from the Ottoman Empire. During the time of tulip fever, also known as tulip mania or tulipomania, a once-worthless bulb, threatened to supplant precious metals as an object of desire. Life savings were spent to obtain sometimes only one bulb. Various men discovered their fortunes, while others wallowed in their demise. Ultimately, for a time, one of nature’s formal beauties became a vessel for voracity and greed.
It is early April. Blood violet, Negrita blossoms swarm me with ecstasy. The majestic blooms of the Elizabeth Arden variety, bedecked in dresses of dark salmon, seem to curtsy as I continue my stroll. Fields of vivid scarlet, Flying Dutchmen seem to approach, ready to attack a neighboring field of carmine, Cabernet brothers. Rows of canary yellow, Big Smile buds beam in the distance, while they stretch their regal necks toward the warmth, and fuel, of the sun. The Skagit Valley tulip fields of western Washington seem to have no perceivable beginning or end. Their beauty enlivens an array of miles. Blossoms, bedecked in their finest costumes, have taken the center stage of spring. The force and power of the bulbs consume me. Tulip stems flash before my eyes in a fury of light, a kaleidoscope of indescribable hues.
Reminiscent of forgotten childhood days, I walk carefree. At the corner of a field, I release my tattered shoes from my feet, unable to resist the tulips’ charms. I walk as God intended. Void of protection, mud, in an almost clay-like form, oozes between my bare toes and stains my virgin skin; I surrender my virtue. I challenge the wind to a race, but never manage to win. My parents watch perplexed, as their nineteen-year-old daughter prances along the flower-lined pathways. I join my two golden retrievers and roll in the mud, unaware of the onlookers that pass by me. I let the dirt and grime sink into my veins; the soil serves as the water for my baptism. Liquid mud turns solid in the cracks and crevices of my toenails. I try to taste, and breathe in the rich purity of the soil. The velvety leaves of tulip stocks brush against my ankles as I spin along.
My mortal eyes behold the unfolding explosion of cream, yellow, and red petals that form a patch of Anthony’s Flame tulips. I cross the border between observation and experience. For a moment, I have knocked on nature’s door and it has invited me in. Nature anoints me with a tender blessing. I step beyond man’s designated boundaries, and lounge in a tulip bed. My conceptual universe has become one of sensuous beauty and romantic exposure. Lying amongst the tulips, the earth imbeds itself in my hair, a token of my communion. I remember what joy feels like. I roll in the dirt and tenderly caress the fragile petals of a single blossom. My black and white life morphs into a stream of vibrant color, shades only a God could create. I find my soul again.
Encompassed by tantalizing flowers, I try to capture every sensory sentiment and emotion. The tulips change me. Bewitched by their beauty, I surrender my modern inhibitions, and revel in the simplistic majesty of nature. For a moment, I have no cares, concerns, or fears. I am like a noble woman in 17th century Holland, privileged to behold the rare, exotic multiplicity of many tulip breeds. I have the funds to pay whatever price the auctioneer demands. Money is no object. In reality, it is the passage of time and my status as a woman of the 21st century, which allow me to behold the glorious craftsmanship of the stately tulips.
That April, my fever was of a different breed than the epidemic of the 1600’s, fueled by a disparate source. Void of the worldly pursuits of mankind, my tulip fever was instead, infused by nature and the magnificence of creation. I discovered what I termed to be, “my inner dirt child”. For a fragment of a few hours, permeated with childlike innocence and disregard, I was oblivious to the outside world’s ploys, rules, and deceptions. The tulips were a sanctuary, my requiem of solace from the world.
The hype of tulipomania reached its peak on February 5, 1637, the day of the famous Alkmaar auction. Afterwards, expanded and twisted beyond its means, the novel splendor of the tulip dissipated, never again to reach the same state of hysteria. My case of tulip fever did not result in such a catastrophic or tragic end. While conscious of the bulbs’ beauty and allurement, I was not forced to put a price on such splendor. My tulips did not fall victims to elements of greed and circumstance. No bidder could conjure enough currency to tempt me to sell. The tulips were not mine to barter. My experience will never be sold.