Our driveway was surrounded on both sides by lilacs. Purple and beautiful they filled the air with the smell of spring, an entry aroma to summer. On a blue sky and 75 degree spring day I came home to discover an SUV parked along Hwy 42 just south of our driveway. The driver of the SUV was loading lilacs by the armful into the back of her car. When I turned into the driveway I was tempted to stop but instead drove all the way to the house intending to walk back down and talk to her and tell her it was ok to pick my lilacs. When I got back to the end of the driveway and she was gone.
As I was reflecting on the “lilac thief” I remembered how many times I have stolen lilacs from the bushes of friends, relatives, or complete strangers. As I thought about my thievery I realized why. There is something so totally enticing about the smell of lilacs, it is heady, it is the essence of spring and early summer, it is the beginning of newness and it is the cleansing breath of wonder.
When I got married the first time the church was full of stolen lilacs. Armfuls in vases too numerous to count, the natural incense so sweet it surrounded the proceedings with a cloud springtime, a blanket of the smell of approaching summer. It may have been the best invocation, sermon and benediction uttered that day. No words of a preacher could rival the wonder of the smell of lilacs.
Over the years I have purchased lilac-scented shampoo, soap and hand lotion only to use them briefly and discard them; they always managed to disappoint. The lilac buds, flowers and blooms quickly and then dies away. In order for it to flower and give us those moments of blissful aroma, it needs artful pruning, well worth the labor. No matter where I am living I always take a moment to find out: “when do the lilacs bloom?”
There is a sense of expectation, your can see the buds begin to form and then the flowers begin to take shape, the moment is coming but it has not yet arrived. The temptation is to put nose to flower too soon, but before the full flower the lilac smell isn’t quite right. When the sun and the blue sky and the first rain join together with the blossom then the full lilac bursts into the mystery and the magic of the first smell of summer.
Then the time has arrived. You approach your favorite bush, owned or borrowed, for your first full deep breath of that “smell.” You inhale. You hold that precious scent deep in your lungs. You savor it. It swells in its intensity, more than an aroma, a smell. It is a season, a time of the year. It is spring and summer, the end of winter, and the expectation of warm days ahead. It is just “lilacs.”
My dad used to bring my mother lilacs when they bloomed in northwest Wisconsin. They were special for her. Finally after about 30 years of marriage he planted two lilac bushes, one purple and one white. They delighted her always, long after he died.
So what is the mystery that surrounds the lilac? Why does it entice and bewitch?
First the bud and then the bloom
but what comes next transcends
the branch and stem
what comes next explodes
and once the explosion takes place
everyone wants to capture it
hold it inside, more than a smell
more than a memory,
we cling to that moment when
summer begins and the lilac blooms
we try to capture the moment
we try to hold on to it and it slips
through our nostrils and through our fingers.
Lilacs are blooming in Rhode Island,
and soon they will bloom in Door County,
and then they will bloom in my hometown
and the trees my dad planted so long ago
with bloom and the vacant homestead
will stand ensign to the wonder of the lilac,
and the bud and the bloom will once again
explode and there will be magic and mystery
and with the lilac summer will begin once again.
Write a story about a lilac, or another spring flower that means summer is coming. Write about the wonder and the beauty the delicate nature of flowers from lady slippers to trilliums, from violets, to the daffodil, write about the young girl or boy who clutches a handful of dandelions to bring to her or his mother or grandmother, or even his or her first love. But do it. Write on.