Between the last walk I took in the park and now, it has become an exuberance of lilacs. The green of the newly-planted grass underneath them is more-than; the lavender leaking toward purple of their blooms, more-than as well.
Spring’s first breath or last gasp? This year, who can say. It was balmy for a few days in February, then spring retreated. When we left for Italy during Holy Week last week, it was puffy-coat weather. When we came back, people were wearing shorts.
My ability to identify lilacs is purely due to geographic accident: until certain hybrids were introduced, they were ungrowable in the South. But in 1967, when I was three, we moved to Wisconsin for three years. When I started kindergarten, I walked to school by myself, crossing the street from the University of Wisconsin’s Married Student Housing and cutting along a hill that seemed wild but probably wasn’t, to end up at the elementary school.
Certain times of year, the edges of my short-cut path were furled banks of jack-in-the-pulpits. Sometimes I scared up a pheasant as I walked and it lunged up the path ahead of me in a draggling stumble-run. In early summer, a plum tree at the edge of the Married Housing parking lot was hung low with wasp-laden, honeyed fruit. And of course, once the snow completely melted away, there were always lilacs.
When I smell them now, it’s my Proustian moment.
This, then, is Spring.
Maybe it’s not just me, Maybe lilacs affect everybody similarly. Here in Madrid, all the corner flower sellers’ stands in the neighborhood are currently massed with them, both purple and white. I can’t be the only person spontaneously moved to buy them.
The swifts cartwheel overhead, back from Africa, our harbinger that summer’s coming.
And today, for the first time in 700 days —700 days! — masks are no longer required indoors in Spain (except in public transport or medical facilities).
This morning, on my way home from the park, I ducked into one of the little shops that are our version of Dollar Stores, digging my mask out of my pocket as I walked in. I was operating at a level below thought, automatically.
It wasn’t until I walked back out and pulled off my mask that I realized — the clerk had been maskless.
What was once strange had become commonplace and what was once normal now felt strange and what was next was anybody’s guess.
Our only constant is our movement through the seasons.