Sunday, September 16, 2007

The call of the lilacs

In spring, the lilacs call to me.

Lilac bushes grew in front of the place where I was raised, and their springtime scent became one of my favorite sensual memories from my childhood. My dad must have liked them, too, because he planted several lilacs behind the fence separating our yard from the woods. They were a disappointment to him, though; in 15 to 20 years, only one of them flowered, producing only one or two blooms.

I think the deep shade of the woods prevented them from thriving. Here, the lilacs in the circular garden at 59th and Stony Island are flooded with sunlight for most of the day and bloom healthily. On 6 May, I visited them, standing on tiptoe and pulling them closer so I could inhale their sweet, heavy scent like a drug.

The slightest scent of lilac transports me more than 500 miles and 35 years. So does the sight and sound of a chickadee or cardinal. The sight and smell of cotton candy. The yeasty smell and taste of fresh-baked bread or the smell and taste of chocolate chip cookie dough. The sight of tiger lilies and lilies-of-the-valley. The sight of green peppers in a garden. The sight and smell of wild climbing roses. The sight, smell, and taste of strawberries. The feel of cool, damp grass underfoot.

It was not so long ago that the lilacs called to me. Now it is time for the fire of autumn, the sight of the yellows, oranges, and reds of the trees and the heavy scent of a wood fire, the feel of crisp yet comfortable air, the sense of languor changing into one of bustle. This is the season during which I landed in Chicago and the season here that I like best, although it signals the beginning of early evenings where darkness sets in at 4:00 p.m. and a long, cold, bitter winter when little changes, and I begin to wonder if anything ever will.

I long for the call of the lilacs. In seven long months, they will tempt me again.

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