Art & Connie Giacalone, and kids, Rochester, NY (1953), in front of Grandma P’s lilac bushes.
In her Rural Life column for the New York Times, Verlyn Klinkenborg writes today (May 20, 2007) of “The Scent of Lilacs,” and says “It says almost enough about where I was raised to say that I was raised among lilacs.” This time of year, I often feel the same way. My hometown, Rochester, New York, calls itself “Lilac City,” and is just ending its annual, 10-day Lilac Festival, held in the incomparable Highland Park, where you will find over 500 varieties of lilacs, with over 1200 bushes covering 22 acres. See “Lilac parade struts through Highland Park,” Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, May 13, 2007, for stories and pictures.) Klinkenberborg speaks for me, when she says:
[W]hen I smell lilacs, I see a nearly bare yard in a small town and children playing in the weight of their scent, not knowing what it will come to mean to them in time.
[Jen Ryda/D&C] As wonderful as a parkful of blooming lilacs can be, I particularly enjoy enountering a single bush or small array while taking a stroll down the block or in a strange neighborhood, or merely sitting in a familiar yard. The heads-up from its scent and the beauty among the mundane make me smile — and make me want to share the experience.
lilacs next to
trash cans –
two scents mingle
…………………………. by dagosan
update (May 10, 2008): Today, I took a photo of the 2008 version of the scene that inspired the above poem (click it for a larger version):
Earlier this week, Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac for May 16, 2007 featured the poem “Stealing Lilacs” by Alice N. Persons, from Never Say Never (Moon Pie Press, 2004, Listen/RealAudio). Poet Persons tells of the two-week miracle each May, the fat lady lilac thief, and not being able to “begrudge her theft.” Although I’m not one to recommend poems of more than 17 syllables, I urge you to check this one out at the Writer’s Almanac webpage.
a slate-gray sky –
…………………………………….. by dagosan
after office politics
. . . . . . . . . . . by Randy M. Brooks, Modern Haiku XXXIV:3
first kiss –
the lilacs still heavy
with last night’s rain
……… by billie wilson – The Heron’s Nest (April 2001)
lush scent of lilacs
line the driveway from childhood
–mother calls me home
….. by Pamela Miller Ness – driveway from childhood (1997)
[photo npr/Ketzel Levine]
In a recent NPR segment called “Beautiful Lilacs Tell a Tale About Climate” (Morning Edition, May 11, 2007), you can learn why “The lilac’s easy-to-read life cycle makes it a good plant for observing changes in the environment.” The narrator also tells us that “Lilacs . . . bloom in the Northwest for at least twice as long as they do in the Midwest.” That seems unfair:
“I hope you can imagine the fragrance of a lilac. If you’ve forgotten its scent, get to a nursery, quick! It’s so powerfully stirring and reassuring that within a century of their introduction here, lilacs were synonymous with ‘home’.”
Thanks to the National Phenology Network, parent to the citizen science project called Project Budburst, we’ve learned that “Observations based in part on decades of lilac data now indicate that spring is arriving 6.8 days earlier in the Midwest than when Professor Caprio first began counting lilac buds [in the 1950's].”
You don’t need a giant Lilac Festival to enjoy the sight and scent of these wonderful bushes. I hope you’ve had your share this year. If not, it’s probably not too late to find them in a yard or park near you.
Gothic letters darken
on the granite slab –
graveyard lilac scent
…….. by Rebecca Lilly – Shadwell Hills (Brook Press, 2002)
in the middle
of some construction
a lilac blooms
…. by Tom Clausen – Upstate Dim Sum (2003/II)