Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Nothings zips me back to childhood quite like spotting the first lightning bug of the season. It happened tonight, as I was being an adult and gathering up some things I had left in the back yard during the heat of the day.
As my mental to-do list chattered away, I saw it: Bink! A tiny yellow light floating about knee-high.
I stopped, and my to-do list got quiet. For a few seconds I just watched the light blink on and off, and remembered the magic of catching fireflies: watching them glow in the cup of your hands, or tracking one in flight and feeling that feathery tickle when it lands on your arm. I did it as a child, and I did it as a mom. It's a tradition passed down to each generation, like jumping in the leaf pile or making snow angels.
  One summer, back in the '90s, we had family visiting from Washington state. We took a long walk around the neighborhood after dinner one night, and before long we were strolling in the dark. Suddenly one of our visitors stopped, perplexed. He asked what those lights were.
  As I realized he was talking about lightning bugs, it was my turn to be confused. How could he not know what lightning bugs were?  Simple. He said they don't have them in Washington state, and he and his mom, who were visiting the East for the first time, had never seen one before.  
I had no idea my favorite insect had such a limited territory.
  Once back home I did my research, and discovered that indeed, lightning bugs basically stay east of Kansas. Half the country is firefly-free.
I'm glad I live in the other half.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

As I've mentioned before, I tend to procrastinate. The inspiration for this posting has come and gone for the season, but I'd still like to pay homage to its beauty.
Lovely lilac

Almost 20 years ago, I transplanted a piece of my childhood into our front yard.
It's a lilac tree, and it comes from the lilac that still blooms in the back yard of my parents' house. That grand lilac is at least 60 years old, a silent but fragrant witness to countless games of running bases, badminton, croquet, tag, or just quiet times of drawing in the patch of dust at the top of the yard, where the combination of shade and the feet of four little kids and their friends made grass harder to come by.
When I grew up and had children of my own, they played in that same back yard with their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. (The lilac was always a prime spot to hide Easter eggs.) 
The lilac transplant happened one gray day, when our son and daughter were still small enough to travel by red wagon. I trundled them over to my folks' house with the goal of bringing some lilac shoots home. (It's just a 20-minute trundle to their side of town.)
While the kids played with Pop-Pop and Grandmom, I headed out to the back yard to dig. The week had been wet, and the gray day turned into light rain, all of which made the job easier, though muddier.
I pulled the wagon back home with our kids and a half-dozen shoots from the lilac, immediately planting them in the spot I had picked out and prepped. I pictured myself sitting on the front porch each spring, breathing in that heavenly fragrance.
I checked on the shoots daily. Sadly, after a few days, they had begun to shrivel. Before long, all that remained was a cluster of brown, dried sticks. I was disappointed, but determined to try again.
Then one day I spotted something green in that cluster of brown. It was tiny, and looked just like a lilac leaf. I was amazed. What had looked quite dead was anything but. 
That little sprout grew -- and kept growing and multiplying. Just as my gardening books predicted, it took a couple years before the first lilac blossoms appeared, but they've come back every spring since. Today the lilac commands that corner, standing 11 feet tall. I look forward to seeing -- and inhaling -- those blossoms every spring, and get a little wistful every year when they fade.
Planting something is such an act of faith. Sometimes what you plant takes off right away and blooms beautifully. Sometimes it shrivels up and dies. And sometimes, it surprises you, and grows when you least expect it.
Keep your eyes open.
It does pay to look up.