Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Carol J. Howard
There's a poem I like called "Stealing Lilacs." The writer sees a car pull up in front of a neighbor's lilac bush, which is in full, glorious bloom. A very fat woman gets out and starts tearing off branches, snapping stems, shoving them into the battered station wagon where her children wait. Then they make a hasty getaway with their bounty. The woman watching wants to call out to them, but she can't begrudge the theft, their quest for beauty.
That's a thievery I fully understand. The scent of lilacs makes me high, makes me giddy, makes me happy. I don't go so far as to rip branches off of other people's bushes. But I will walk into their yards, put my face into the blossoms, and inhale deeply. I want nothing more than to stand there for a long, long time until my entire being is filled with the perfume. But usually I walk away, trying not to be too greedy, or too obvious.
Such a lovely thing about scent—I can sniff, and sniff, and sniff, and I don't use it all up. There's still more left for others. The aroma will fade, certainly, as the flowers grow past their time. But I can't abscond with all the scent in my nostrils (mind you, I might do so if I could).
I'm a scent thief when it comes to peonies and roses, too, straying off sidewalks, crossing invisible boundaries of ownership to breathe in those heady bouquets. But lilacs, oh heaven-scent lilacs. They are the flowers that most hold me in their thrall, most embolden me to venture onto the lawns of strangers.
When lilacs are in season, I am more guided by my sense of smell than by common sense. When lilacs are in season, I'm at least as bad as our chocolate lab at turning our walks into stop-and-sniff fests. Often we will come to a halt, each pulling in a different direction—Journey reaching for that complex interplay of odors arising from a pile of dog droppings, me straining toward the nirvana of a lilac bush.
I grew up in Minnesota, where the winters were long and harsh, and the earth was snow-covered nearly half the year. I seem to remember lilacs as a sign of spring, but I know they were far from the first to bloom. Crocuses and daffodils brought color back into our white and dirty-gray world well before lilacs sweetened the air. I had to wait—eagerly, impatiently—till May or early June to start stealing those whiffs of the sublime.
I still wait eagerly, impatiently. And when it comes to the scent of lilacs, I remain an utterly unrepentant thief.
Carol J. Howard is author of the nonfiction book, Dolphin Chronicles. She currently works as a science writer for the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT) and is a member of the Feckless WOE writing group. She tries (not necessarily successfully) to remember Leonard Bernstein's advice that "Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time... The wait is simply too long."
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