It was mid-July when our family moved to St. Paul. It is a very small town in Oregon’s verdant Willamette Valley, and we had bought a large farm about two miles east of town. It was my dad’s dream. He had, of course, owned our filbert orchard near Lake Oswego on the Tualatin River, and had gone nuts since 1957. But now he had a “spread.” He was going to be a real farmer now.
Of course, we still had the orchard to prepare for harvest in October, and he was still teaching at Benson High School full-time; so he really didn’t yet have the opportunity to get his hands dirty on a “real” farm, which was his fondest desire. So we rented out the wide flat fields. My dad had negotiated the contracts to rent the hundred or so acres in cultivation earlier that spring, and the crops were already in by the time I laid eyes on them in July. Did we see alfalfa, corn, or wheat? No, we saw a vast carpet of lilies!
The earlier-blooming tulip bulbs had already been harvested. At that time, a wave of Russian immigrants had flooded the Willamette Valley. These people had fled Russia in advance of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, and were wanderers around the world since then – first in China and then in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay – so I was told. How they ever made their way to little Woodburn, Oregon escapes me. But they – in very Old World garb reminiscent of Fiddler on the Roof – were hired by the hundreds to work in the agricultural industry throughout our fine productive valley between the high Cascades and the Pacific Ocean.
But the real interesting element of the tulip and lily bulb story was not the Russians – it was the Dutch! Come to find out – the tenant that had rented our farm and several others of similar size around us – the Oregon Bulb Farm – was actually a wholly owned Dutch subsidiary company whose parent corporation was in Nederland. It seems that the land in the Netherlands was so scarce and dear that much of this lucrative business, for which the Dutch are so well know, had been quietly and rather secretively sent to the Pacific Northwest. The bulbs were sent to Europe and sold as Dutch bulbs. I never thought this dishonest at all – just practical, like the Dutch themselves.
The rental contract was for three years, and every summer the blooms shone in a multicolored carpet against the bright blue sky and the snowy white mantle of Mt. Hood in the background. I can still recall the way that on those hot summer days the heat sort of cooked the fields, and how the fragrance that hung heavy in the air was like a perfume … no, more like a burning incense.
During that time, the Russian workers dumped imperfect bulbs around the sides of the fields, and each year more and more volunteer plants would grow around the fence line and even in the drainage ditches that surrounded them. In September of 1968 I was trepidatiously awaiting my induction into the US Army in October. To take my mind off of my impending new and scary endeavor, I went around the fence line and pulled up hundreds of plants, the bulbs of which I brought in and planted around our house and yard. Years later, and even after my parents had long sold that farm for a much bigger one, the faithful volunteers that I rescued that autumn are still blooming there.