One of my New Year traditions is potting up dozens of amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus bulbs. They respond enthusiastically to emerging from my chilly, dark closet into the brightly lit studio. I know how they feel. Some will sit regally on elegant glass pebbles; some will stand like linemen with their hands in the specially prepared dirt. The paperwhites aren’t particular about this, but the amaryllis like to be up to their round middles in storebought soil, top halves exposed.
Catalogs will tell you they need four to six weeks from potting to blooming, but their enthusiasm leads them on to precociousness. The first narcissus buds swell at about two weeks and they bloom in waves, from those nearest the windows on across the room. The amaryllis are right behind them.
This process is called forcing. Forcing the bulbs. Have I forced them to bloom indoors? Would they rather be outside right now? Their daffodil cousins are happy enough living outdoors, sleeping under a nice blanket of snow at the moment; but the paperwhites would die in the wilds of a Michigan winter. They are being coddled in here, with heat, and warm storebought soil, and water in its liquid state. They stretch luxuriantly toward the window. I may be waking them up, but no more than that. The force is theirs, not mine.