Lilac blossoms in Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of Alex Karasoulos via GBIF

On Memorial Day the lilac world was in full purple surge, as always. And as always, the lilac bush off the corner of the house had not yet blossomed.

That bush was not expected to do much when Bonnie and Jack planted it about 20 summers ago. They tucked it on the crumbly slope between the house and the driveway, which runs downhill through tall trees and what in April is brown dried weeds and patches of standing water, then up to contagious Route 9.

Barely a twig, the bush was in the beginning. The first few years it seemed sluggish, dazed, almost lifeless in appearance. Then it gripped down. Its unusually thin, small, white blossoms, we discovered, unfurl weeks after the usual purple bloom of Syringa vulgaris at the end of May. It might be S. reticulata, the Japanese tree lilac, throwing out so many shoots it has to be cut back. Robins in the syringa sing.

This piece of lilac history ran downhill through my mind this year and awakened another day of lilacs 60 years ago, when my Little League team, the Braves, marched in the Memorial Day parade. Bright morning sunshine, a touch of chilly May wind (new then but familiar now) blew biting bugs around our eyes while Sousa-like horns somewhere carried us forward through Pond Cove corner. Sometime after the solemnities, they lined us up for a team photo.

Deep in a memory box here in Troy, is that picture. Me and my teammates holding our gloves in gestures to suggest we’re serious about walking in the parade and winning baseball games. My hat is pulled cockeyed onto my eyebrows over a goofy smile. How else would it be when you’re 11? I turned out at times to be a better baseball player than the picture might imply.

I’m expecting the lilac by the house to run downhill wild this summer because the rest of the lilac world has. Is it my imagination playing on the past, or have the dogwood, crabapple, shadbush, wild strawberry, bluets and dandelions blown out of all usual proportion in support of full lilac this spring?


Under some 40-year-old pines in the Unity park, an impromptu hedge of honeysuckle is already blossoming. The exact same thin, white, labial little flowers of a visit nearly 50 Junes ago to an old house in Scarborough. The sultry cascade of off-cream colors, and that scent. Honeysuckle on Prouts Neck.

The memory box is open, and it’s floral.

Violets in dew-green Islesboro in early May, a year before. A late-May green and purple haze on Islesford where I saw Aldous Huxley’s death mask.

Rhododendrons edging rain-wet lawns in Portland as we trudged door to door canvassing for the City Directory, mid-1970s. Bright orange berries of mountain ash in the heat of August afternoons.

A crimson-blossomed quince bush on the early morning walk to work from Munjoy Hill, mid-May 1980s.

Azaleas in the milky, husky sunlight of May in Timisoara, the friends who swept us there.


My mother’s hollyhocks baking on trellises in the afternoon sun.

In those days you had only to rise, step out the door, and know that the beginning of June was the first authentic time, the first morning of summer. Clarity, outline of leaf, petals, awakening. A list of perennially familiar things the robins sing.

What momentum spring carries forward into summer, not to mention fall. The years are defined one by one in iterations of flowers. The buds of those small white blossoms on the bush by the house are working up to their time. The profound change is upon them. When they unfurl I’ll remember how flush Memorial Day was with lilac purple and all.

What total faith I have in that white lilac’s summer re-appearance.

How else would it be?

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at His book “Summer to Fall” is available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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