Every spring when the daffodils pop, I smile in appreciation beyond the obvious. At the first yellow budding, I recall a particular spring break in college, when I answered an ad posting. “No experience needed- daffodil pickers to fill in for 3 days.” “That might be fun,” I thought. I invited a girlfriend to join me.
On the first morning, I looked out into the darkness and could see it was raining hard. Surely, they will cancel. I called the number and the message said, “Be there at 6 am. Don’t forget your lunch.” I bundled up, threw my rain gear in the car, and drove to pick up my skeptical friend. “Oh C’mon , this is an adventure!” I laughed and turned up the radio.
It was hailing by the time I found the field. A man waved us over to a school bus of fogged windows, parked by the side of a road. Since there were only a handful of new workers, our training was short.
The light was beginning to show on the field and it was unbelievably cold. Before long we were out in the rain, sleet, and hail with packs of rubber bands, wearing yellow rubber gloves, rubber boots and rain gear.
We had been cautioned to stay out of the center of the muddy rows. This was not regular mud but clay, and slippery as ever. “Keep moving, keep your feet moving!” the field guy yelled repeatedly. Maybe they don’t want people to be lazy, I wondered.
It wasn’t long before I figured out the keep-moving-your-feet rule. I saw an older woman screaming for help! She was literally sinking in the clay. As it filled in around her, she could not move at all. It was like wet cement! An alarm sounded and 4 men came running. With great effort, they pulled the woman out. She was reprimanded for having this happen. Holy shit!
Ok, got it! Don’t stand in one spot for long! When the same thing happened later to a man, they put a harness on him. Quickly they dragged him out on his belly with a 4-wheeler! Unbelievable! There was no way I was going to let this happen, although I did slide twice, and fall once on my back.
I was pretty over this as the sideways rain and wind whipped up. But soon we were back on the bus for lunch. Shelter relief for 30 minutes… I held my cold unappealing sandwich with numb fingers and stared out the window at the downpour. The seasoned workers talked on with mouthfuls of food. They compared the seasons, and how many bundles they had picked. The rows were thicker and fuller this year which meant more money.
Most of the men would not wear gloves. It slowed them down. Their hands and arms were covered with hideous oozing sores. The gooey juice in the Daffodil stem is poisonous. If you are exposed for any duration your hands and arms break out- with an eczema/ chicken pox-like itchy rash. It scabs, crusts and bleeds continually. It is a short season and the rash clears up eventually, or so one fellow told me.
When you see the rubber banded bundles of Daffodils for sale, think about the fields, the growers and laborers. Appreciate all of those hands picking, packing, loading, unloading, pulling people out of the clay, taking breaks to eat cold food with icy fingers. Be happy it isn’t you out there snapping rubber bands around stems, filling plastic buckets with your hard picked bundles. I appreciate those people every year when the Daffs appear.
Those were the longest 3 days of my life at that point, and even longer came later… on a boat in the Bering Sea … but that’s another story. 😉 !