Thursday, May 12, 2016

#phenology "When lilacs last by the dooryard..."

One of those seasonal Spring events for Minnesota property owners is paying the first half of our annual property taxes by mid-May. It comes at a time of year when we've had a month to recover from income tax payments and can usually enjoy the soporific fragrance of lilacs to help us mellow out after the fiscal shock of writing a large check to the county treasurer. (This joy is not available to those who escrow their taxes with mortgage payments.) Mid-May is peak lilac time in Minnesota and this year there seem to be more lilacs in bloom in the neighborhood than I remember from years past. A growing number of those bushes, however, are right on our property. One is in the back yard (where it keeps attracting deer who find it tasty) and several are in front of the house, which location seems to have a slight deterrent effect on four-footed, hooved, visitors. I think at least some of the bushes in front qualify as having a "dooryard" location. Although we've managed to accumulate several cultivars, all are a basic lilac purple color, no whites or pinks.

lilac bushes by abandoned door yard
lilac bushes by abandoned door yard
Photo by J. Harrington

My nostalgia for lilacs was reinforced on Mother's Day after we enjoyed a Sunday brunch in St. Paul. As we walked through the restaurant's parking lot on our way back to our car, the breeze carried an almost overwhelming scent of lilac to us. I immediately flashed back to grammar school and the bouquets we used to bring in to brighten up the classroom (and suck up to the teacher). Soon after three or four vases full of blossoms were on a teacher's desk, late afternoon sun and lilac aroma had both students and teacher nodding with drowsiness. The bouquets were removed and further contributions prohibited. A total ban was intended to bring equity rather than favoritism to the situation by limiting to one or two arrangements. Personally, I really enjoyed the way warm day-dreaminess of May afternoons loosened my imagination, before the powers that be decided a return to scholastic productivity was in order.

Lilacs, according to Jim Gilbert's Nature Notebook, will be past bloom in southern Minnesota by the time my birthday rolls around next month. By then I expect to see columbine and beardtongue brightening the local fields and roadsides. Grammar school was usually out for the Summer by early June, a wonderful birthday present in those days, as another school year faded along with lilac blossoms. Freedom awakened us from sleep producing studies of topics like Walt Whitman's famous poem while these days Joyce Peseroff helps me recall the simple pleasures of penny candy and lilac time in grade school.

Lilacs on My Birthday

By Joyce Peseroff

The flowerets look edible before they open,
like columns of sugar dots on tiny strips
I bought as a child. Hard to bite the candy without

some paper adhering, as adding machine tape will
to large, red numbers. Lilacs are like that: another year
unspools without major accomplishment,

while I question "major" and "accomplishment."
And when I find in Costco those clusters
of pointillist pastel, I hope they will become

someone else's nostalgia—honorable emotion
propelling Ulysses toward Ithaca, and a woman
to set lilacs in her dooryard as her mother did.

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