When the Lilacs Bloom

Spring, in my neck of the woods, is easily the most longed-for season of the year.

All too often, however, spring is like a bashful pixie, a reluctant, shy, embarrassed late-arrival to the all-season party where winter dominates the proceedings and monopolizes the conversation. Eventually, though, as the pages of the calendar flip forward, day by day, we reach the month of May, when spring finally unfurls its plumage, the self-consciousness gone, the reticence of March and April a forgotten thing.

pixie

 

Almost overnight, it seems, grasses that were yellow and brown turn a rich, verdant green.  Buds appear, as if by magic, on the trees.  Colorful grosbeaks and bobolinks return to the area, and the year-round songbirds sing louder and longer, as if basking in the long-awaited, nearly forgotten warmth.

grosbreak

 

And. perhaps most spectacular of all, May is when the lilacs bloom . . .

This weekend, I will take the seven-hour drive from Vermont, my adopted state for the past eleven years, “back home” to Rochester, New York.  I’ll visit my parents, my brothers and sister, extended family, and old friends.  I look forward to it.  It is always nice visiting my roots, inspirations, the people and places who have been there for me from the beginning.

rochester

 

And, time permitting, I will also make a point to see the lilacs.

Rochester has long been nicknamed the Flower City, and no time of the year embodies this more than the month of May, and no single piece of real estate more so than Highland Park.

highlandp

 

Situated on the city’s south side, Highland Park is home to the largest collection of lilac bushes in the United States, boasting more than 500 varieties of lilacs and 1,200 plants in all, bedecked on a green hillside that spans 22 acres.  Every May, for a span of ten days, the park hosts the Lilac Festival. It’s an enormous event, bringing in more than 500,000 visitors from around the world.

lilacfest

 

For me, though, I most enjoy the park early in the morning, before the food and craft stands open, before the crowds gather–when there is still dew on the grass and when you can listen, without interruption, to your thoughts and luxuriate in the heady fragrance of the lilacs.

lilacs1

 

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I savor it, savor them, drinking them in because I know they will be gone within a fortnight, the delicate petals fallen, the purples and pinks and lavenders stripped away, the color show over and done until the same time next year.  It always seems sad that such a magnificent display should be so brief, such a bounty so fleeting.

highlandsummer

 

Perhaps it is.  But it also serves as a reminder.

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Have you ever been struck by an idea, something so inspired, so riveting, so full of life and vitality that you instantly knew you had to let it out?  Maybe it was a concept for a short story, or a new focus for a novel.  Maybe it was a poem, gift-wrapped, arriving in total, the lines and rhythms dancing before your eyes like gemstones.  Maybe it was a landscape or a street scene for you to paint, the contours, shadows, and nuances perfectly clear in your mind’s eye.  Maybe it was a tactic, an approach, a way to sway your audience or win the approval of your coworkers on a long-debated and polarizing project.

gems

 

Moments like these are energizing, and often hit us without warning, a creative bolt from the blue, as it were.  They are as invigorating as they are rare.

boltfromblue

 

Sure, ideas strike every day.  But how many of them make you stop what you’re doing mid-thought, or distract to the point where you forget the supper in the oven or fail to see that red light switch over to green (the motorist behind you will certainly let you know should this happen–and yes, I speak from experience!)?  I know for me, such ideas only occur infrequently, and there is no way of guessing when they will come.

redgreen

 

I’ve tried to figure it all out.  Is there something specific I tend to do that might encourage the best ideas to strike?  Is there a certain TV show or movie I should watch?  Maybe a book I should read?  Or maybe a particular food . . . perhaps a “creativity diet” that exists, a certain combination of vegetables, starches, and nuts that assures at least one winning idea per day?

creativediet

 

But if there’s a secret magic formula, I’ve yet to discover it.  The muse strikes when it will, a capricious, fickle thing, as inscrutable as the undiscovered wonders at the bottom of the sea or the farthest reaches of space.

farthestreaches

 

The truth is, those earth-shattering ideas that rock my creative world and send paradigm shifts running through every page of a manuscript are as rare and transitory as the lilacs that grace Highland Park for a fortnight every spring.  And maybe that’s as it should be–for all of us.  If they struck every day, they would no longer be special, no longer demand our attention and make us take notice.  They’d become ordinary, just another check mark on the to-do lists of our lives.  “Brush teeth, check.  Make breakfast, check.  Pick up groceries, check.  Pay the bills, check.  Be inspired by fabulous, Pulitzer-Prize-worthy idea, check.”

pulitzer

 

As tempting as it sounds (especially in those seasons of writer’s block) to have an ideas-on-demand app that we could tap into anytime we want, I kind of like it the way it is now.  Not everything should be so convenient and easy.  Some things are meant to be special.

Like Highland Park in the month of May . . .

ilacsend1

 

. . . when the lilacs bloom.

lilacsend2

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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