Tuesday, June 3, 2014

When lilacs last...

While recently traveling local roads, I've noticed quite a few lilac bushes "in the wild," growing where no homestead or farmstead is in sight. Coming from New England, I place lilacs in the dooryards of long established, sometimes long gone, farm houses. I've been missing the sleepy fragrance of their flowers and the lilac we recently planted isn't likely to produce blossoms for a few years yet.

freshly planted dwarf lilac bush
freshly planted dwarf lilac bush                © harrington

Lilacs without houses nearby usually makes me wonder what happened. In some places, there doesn't appear to be even a trace of a foundation. In others, it looks like bushes were planted once as a hedge and the farm has been consolidated or just abandoned. Part of the history of Chisago County involves land use changes from logging to farming to subdivisions. Maybe some of the lilacs I've noticed are located on property not still farmed and not yet growing new houses. Other locations offer an opportunity for those of us who must have lilac bouquets to celebrate late Spring and early Summer (just before school let out for the year) to acquire a small handful of blossoms to be enjoyed at home for the next week or two.

"wild" lilac bushes
"wild" lilac bushes                       © harrington

From what I've seen, or can find on-line, lilacs are not native to Minnesota, but I also can't find any indication that they're considered invasive. These days, if we trade road crews for Malcolm Cowley's gandy dancers, we'd have a pretty fair picture of much of My Minnesota's countryside at this time of year.

Blue Juniata

By Malcolm Cowley 

Farmhouses curl like horns of plenty, hide   
scrawny bare shanks against a barn, or crouch   
empty in the shadow of a mountain. Here   
there is no house at all—

only the bones of a house,
lilacs growing beside them,
roses in clumps between them,   
honeysuckle over;
a gap for a door, a chimney
mud-chinked, an immense fireplace,   
the skeleton of a pine,

and gandy dancers working on the rails
that run not thirty yards from the once door.

I heard a gandy dancer playing on a jew’s harp   
Where is now that merry party I remember long ago?   

Nelly was a lady ... twice ... Old Black Joe,
as if he laid his right hand on my shoulder,
saying, “Your father lived here long ago,
your father’s father built the house, lies buried   
under the pine—”
                         Sing Nelly was a lady   

... Blue Juniata ... Old Black Joe:

for sometimes a familiar music hammers
like blood against the eardrums, paints a mist   
across the eyes, as if the smells of lilacs,   
moss roses, and the past became a music   
made visible, a monument of air.


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