Flush with lilacs, Michigan blooms anew

Having four distinct seasons used to be one of the things those of us living in Michigan boasted about. After this past winter and the present cold, wet, late spring, I’m not so sure any more.

Instead of a blessing, this year our climate has seemed more of a curse. Granted, despite the cold and rain, last week returned us to the spring glories of living in Michigan.

The grass was that emerald green you only get in its first flush. The daffodils kept their bright blooms glowing for a long time in the cold, while tulips flamed in their accustomed red, yellow and orange. The crab trees – at least, those branches still living – burst into pink and white flower.

But the winter certainly took its toll. The forsythia, at least mine, flowered hardly at all, except for a few branches that were protected under the snow. It looks as though we’ll get only a few dogwood blossoms and the redbud is sparse.

I lost several big peach trees over the winter; and after last year’s massive apple crop, most apple trees I see have very few flowers. But, gloriously, the lilacs burst into full flower last week. This I take as compelling evidence of global warming (not the watered-down term “climate change”).

When I was growing up, a sure sign of Memorial Day was the blooming of the lilacs. Nowadays they’re a couple weeks earlier than they used to be – even after our terrible winter.

Lilacs, however, are something I always notice … and no wonder. Looking back, I can’t help but reflect that my family has a thing for lilacs.

My parents were married on June 17, 1929, in Oostburg, Wisconsin, near the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. When my father asked my mother what kind of flowers she wanted for her wedding, she asked – trying to keep things simple – for white lilacs. Little did she know that by mid-June in the Midwest, lilac season is long past. So my father somehow found a way to ship blossoming white lilac branches all the way from northern Canada.

The gardening feature of their house was a great big white lilac bush next to the garage. It grew from a cutting taken years before from a lilac at my grandparents’ house in Traverse City.

So when I built my own house decades later, I naturally rooted a cutting from their bush. It’s now 12 feet high, filled with single white virginal flowers. I took a cutting this spring; I hope to root it and take it to my son’s house in Denver.

Lilacs are emotional plants, evoking fleeting love and the yearning of memory. Walt Whitman, whose poems speak profoundly of his love for his country, in 1865 wrote the sad elegy, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," grieving for the slain Abraham Lincoln:

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d on the western sky in the night.
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

T S. Eliot is not my favorite poet; his imagery is often deliberately hard to understand. But he actually caught the simple and strong emotion of lilacs in "The Waste Land," published in 1922:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

The dull roots are stirring these days. It looks as though this week will be a good one, spring come at last, revealing and reminding all of us lucky enough to live here the glories of Michigan, my Michigan.

Our Michigan.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.