Holly PrievoCongratulations to Holly Prievo for Winning the May 2021 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The challenge was to write an essay in response to this prompt:

Spring has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere. Tell us about your favorite tree, plant, or flower, and why it means something to you.

Holly told a beautiful story about a scent from her past. Enjoy her winning submission:

Narcissus: Exuberance. Promise. Youth.

It wasn’t always dry. I used to hang bare feet off that tiny bridge, dipping toes into flowing water and waiting for the startled, burping bullfrogs to cautiously climb back onto their banks.

I picked cattails and rubbed them free, separating those fluffy white mounds and sending them floating past the huddling forget-me-nots and fierce tiger lilies, long and stretching for the sun. I’d catch tadpoles just for the chase, then immediately set them back with guilt.

But before all that, I waited for narcissus.

When winter gave signs of leaving, I’d watch that thawing creek. I’d see those emerald stalks poke out, pushing aside what was left of the snow, stretching their limbs from the long slumber, and suddenly, as if fully awake, the narcissus would bloom. Clustered like slender teenage girls, their stamens resembled puckered lips, protruding bright red against the pale white skin of their petals. Some might consider her plain, the narcissus, no match for a rose or a lily. But if so, they never understood the secret to what made her special.

Her scent. The scent that could fill up a room with hope and renewal.

The fragrance of winter leaving.

The smell of thaw, and rivulets running down a paved road; pussy willows pushing through dead wood.

I think it’s the aroma of Exuberance. Maybe Promise. And certainly Youth.

I’d always pick them early, with my own exuberance, when the world was fresh and partially still sleeping. The dewy morning would cling to my bare feet, with syrupy stalks bleeding on my small but growing hands that held so much promise. I’d bring them in by the dozens and place a vase in each room. Man, they would fill a space with their fragrant presence, those plain, small, syrupy flowers. Each vase promising a season in bloom.

And every afternoon, when the family would return, they’d bring us back to the freshness of a quiet spring morning full of promise… and make us believe it could always be this way.

But at some point, it seemed spring stopped blooming. Or maybe, we stopped returning…

But somehow, I had picked my last narcissus, and the creek bed was dry.

It’s been many springless years now. I see they just tore down the old barn, and the fence is gone. Sunflowers hold hands, strong and united, in its place. The pine I brought home in a coffee can — what is it, 20 years ago now? — towers in watch over the drive, long since repaved by another. Inside, I think, each fresh stroke of paint seals a scented memory between faded wallpaper and new beginnings.

As I drive past, I look down at my hands — full grown, empty.

I inhale deeply the memory of exuberance and promise — unmistakably, the narcissus of my youth.

Maybe this year the water will return to wash away dusty nostalgia, freeing the scent of youth from that overgrown, dried-out creek bed.