03 Apr Tulips in Skagit Valley

The tulips are here and with them the change of seasons has firmly taken hold. The winter in Northwest Washington was mild and, for the second year in a row, we again have an early spring. What it portends about the future of our climate no one can say for sure. And it’s hard to be very upset about the onset of warm sunny days with flowers and trees bursting with new life and color. One big difference between the 2015-2016 winter and the year before is the return of snow to the Cascades: there is plenty of deep snowpack to allay fears of drought in the Northwest. Last year may have been an anomaly in that there was little or no snow in the mountains; thankfully, in this year of El Niño, that didn’t occur.

Spring is the most exciting time of the year to be outdoors. When the sun is out and the temperatures rise the world comes alive once more. We are reminded of the cycle of life. It always gives me hope that spring is a metaphor for the cycle of human life as well. The seasons portray it so perfectly and yes, optimistically, there is a rebirth every year.

The tulips in Washington’s Skagit Valley are heralds of this change and dressed in all their finery they trumpet loud the announcement that our mother earth has roused from her slumber and let loose her life-force to nurture and feed us all.

Of course the most striking feature of the return of the tulips is the colors that are their DNA, that literally shout to the sky we are here. Set in a subdued frame of earthy browns, tans, warm grays, and greens in this lovely valley here’s this outlier army of plants that we are drawn to witness. I ask myself what draws people here by the thousands every spring. It seems to me that the tulips represent the optimism and exciting implications of what lies ahead. But also the juxtaposition of these radical colors on the landscape is mesmerizing. If you think about it, you will understand that nature doesn’t do color like what is laid out before you in these immaculate fields. Swaths of yellows, reds, purples and oranges stretch out like carpets as far as the eye can see. It’s almost surreal seeing color like this, it’s so rare.

Visually the fields remind me more of Impressionism than Surrealism. But not everyday Nature. Her palate is much subtler, her tone more varied, and with many more actors involved. These two models, the variety in natural landscapes and the uniformity of a tulip field, are both beautiful to observe and yet startlingly different in how they occur.

Tulips really have a fascinating history. The tulip was different from every other flower when introduced in Europe around 1593, with a saturated intense petal color that no other plant displayed. Between 1634 and 1637, the enthusiasm for the new flowers triggered a speculative frenzy now known as the tulip mania. Tulip bulbs became so expensive that they were treated as a form of currency, or rather, as futures. Around this time, the ceramic tulipiere was devised for the display of cut flowers stem by stem. Vases and bouquets, usually including tulips, often appeared in Dutch still-life paintings. To this day, tulips are associated with the Netherlands, and the cultivated forms of the tulip are often called “Dutch tulips.”

When it’s tulip season in Skagit Valley hordes of daytrippers descend on this beautiful agricultural valley. Traffic on the weekends is often backed up for miles. I suggest going on a weekday during the best viewing light which is early morning or later in the afternoon. Most of the fields are posted and parking along the roadsides is limited but can be found. There are also sites that provide parking and access for a small fee.