Cusp of Summer

Fri, 05/29/2015 - 7:30am

The lilacs I picked two days ago have consumed most of the water in their bulb shaped vase, the one that makes me wonder why all vases are not so shaped; it is not top heavy, and the smaller neck supports stripped stems, keeping the flowers from fanning out awkwardly. The fragrance of these favorite flowers of the spring hits every time I walk past, a bittersweet wave that reminds me of their finite life. This year they are not blooming as I expect them to bloom; the old-fashioned ones that have been at the corner of the dooryard my whole life have usually come and are nearly spent before the others, on a bush that was a long ago birthday present, present themselves.

The newer, a French lilac, the tag said, has a different flower, white rimmed, and it is less aromatic, but it extends, or should extend, this fragile season of purple blooms that were a staple of old farm yards.

Their resilience amazes me. My oldest lilac has been cut nearly to the ground to renew it. The ones at the Mansion site have defied all attempts by the town to annihilate them, from an initial “clearing” of the site that ripped from the earth a great tree that was decades, perhaps a whole century old, removed for the sake of parking. They came back, several years later, self-seeded along the interior wall of the old kitchen ell foundation. They flourished in the protected space then one year were cut, with the poison ivy that had also flourished there, budded boughs left lying on the ground. The road worker had long toiled, clearing the masonry and wanted to show me the result; he was as horrified as I when he realized what he had done. There was a history by then, I was sure they would grow up from their roots as they did.

Every year, though, I check, and it does seem there are fewer now, which does not mean there are, only that it is time for me to take a serious account of them.

There is a boomerang lilac, I have discovered, one that promises blooms through the summer and into the fall. The reviews are mixed and it is difficult to tell what is real, to separate what is based on any semblance of fact from what is grounded in an odd nostalgia, an antipathy to change.

What I am noticing more this year is a profusion of tent caterpillars, little insects that build silken... tents in places where they will catch the morning sun. They are like so many things of Nature, fascinating in a purely structural manner, these creatures who know to build their little houses both in the midst of a food source and where they will receive the sun they so need to warm themselves in the early spring.

The narrative of their needing new growth foliage reminds me of a friend in Fish & Wildlife, so long ago talking of what he thought a panic without justification over a gypsy moth infestation. They would decimate forests, he conceded, but once they had eaten every leaf there would be no more food and most of them would die. He was the same who asked me if I were a deer, would I walk past a watered, fertilized lawn and garden for whatever was growing in the summer-dry fields?

I think of gypsy moths as well because I for years thought these tents were evidence of gypsy moth, a mistake I am oddly comforted to find is not mine alone by a “what is not” section of a Minnesota Dept of Agriculture website (and I wonder not for the first time why that is such a good resource, or, more accurately, why others are not).

I tell myself I will notice when the tents are gone but I am sure I will not until I am looking for the egret and realize the odd little tree at the edge of the pond is no longer a host to the silken nests.

They are everywhere, especially along that stretch of the Neck Road between Town and Scotch Beaches, where there are no lawns or houses, where everything that grows is wild. They look, at first, to be scraps of plastic blown from some truck headed for the dump and trapped in the network of branches of bayberry and scrub. I'd not given it any mind but they are all in places set to catch that morning sun, these little greenhouses.

It is the last week in May and the bayberry along that same stretch of road is finally showing life, dark red buds are readying to open, unfurling new greenish leaves. Roses are showing pink and white, a hint of the blanketing of the dunes to come. The solstice is weeks away but we are on the cusp of meteorological summer, the spring and its lilacs already slipping away.

We are in that last few weeks when such observances are easy to make on a trip in or out of the Neck. We have become unaccustomed to summer traffic that demands our attention, bicycles and walkers and children headed for the beach all in that short space where there is nothing but the occasional deer all winter. 

My car is equipped with cruise control and this time of year I think about setting it at 25 or 26 or 27, something close enough to the speed limit that even the most zealous of the summer cops will not bother me. And where was he when the (not local) driver of a small truck was screaming at me because I was driving that posted limit one busy August day?

Then I remember driving from Ventura to LAX with my uncle telling of cruising down that highway in predawn darkness, his foot tucked into a resting position that he couldn't undo in time to hit the brake and avoid a collision — a chance I'd rather not take.