Last spring, my husband and I fell in love with a small house on the edge of a state park. The house is tiny, but very charming, and located on about an acre of green velvet…the land slopes down to an ancient rock wall, and a creek that feeds into a splendid gorge. We weren’t really looking for a house, but this place was too wonderful to ignore. So we sold our house in town and moved out to the country.

Our former house had few trees in the yard, but it did have one venerable white lilac. Someone told me it could be more than 50 years old. Sprawling and wide, the white lilac slouched unassuming in the back yard, visible from the dining room window. The white lilac, like me, had good and bad years while I lived in that house. But for the lilac, good years meant mounds of white popcorn-ish blooms, which I’d scramble to cut before they faded. Overflowing the kitchen table or my office desk, it was easy for me to be generous, give away blowsy bouquets, and save armfuls of fragrance from rotting on the tree. On our first wedding anniversary, a crazy April snowstorm fell on the white lilac blooms, and a mother robin, nursing a nest of eggs in the crook of the tree, looked quite unamused.

Before we turned over the old house, we dug up a spindle from the white lilac, a shoot that had snuck up near its base. My husband planted this lilac sprout at the new house, so we could remember a piece of our past. And thankfully, I have a lot of photos of the old white lilac.

So I’ve struggled with words to describe how I felt when I passed the old house recently and saw that the new owners had Cut. Down. The. White. Lilac. Tree. Words like angry, sad, sick to my stomach weren’t strong enough—I needed words like RAGEFUL, DEVASTATED, and I needed to capitalize them. I felt like throwing up, like purging all my insides. I couldn’t blog about it right way; I needed to calm down. I needed a cooler heart.

Because of various unpleasant details, routine in closing any real estate deal, I’d been fighting my urge to dislike the people who bought our house. What now seem like little things annoyed me, and I thought I’d gotten past it, no reason to hold onto anger, after all, I love our new house and life is good. I rarely feel like committing physical violence, but when I saw the lilac lying in loggish pieces on the lawn, the fireball in my gut urged me to reconsider my pacifism. As I think of it now, I still have to fight back a deep and visceral disgust.

Until now, I thought I was only a metaphorical tree-hugger. But this was the best lilac tree ever. How could someone kill it? Did they do it from ignorance; did they know what kind of tree it was? Or did they do it on purpose, in which case, how evil! I’ve thought up all kinds of clichés about it, the tree was too good for this world, the new owners don’t deserve that tree anyway, on and on. I don’t want to carry venom toward these people, but how can I ever forgive them?

I saw something today in this spindly baby lilac, this offspring. As I sift through the myriad feelings this felled tree brought up, I am beyond relieved that we took a piece of the august white lilac. That the spindle survived! It won’t bloom this year, but maybe next, or the year after…. Is what I see in this baby lilac something like hope?

4 thoughts on “The best lilac ever

  1. Oh My God. I share every one of your reactions, and I never even saw this tree! Why would a person do that? I bet they’re going to put something hateful in, like a jacuzzi! I don’t know these people at all, but I’m resisting the urge to hate them too. I’m off now to go look for violets and lilacs in Central Park, as part of my Beltaine Eve celebration. Then I may buy a lavender plant (and lilacs, if I can find any). One of my few regrets about leaving that apartment in Seattle was giving up the lilac tree growing right outside my bedroom window. It bloomed every year, but would really go to town every other year.
    I’m so glad you saved that little shoot.

  2. Glad you wrote about this — it’s powerful and moving! Brought up some powerful reminiscences for me. My best friend in 5th & 6th grade had a treehouse shaded by a lilac tree that we hid behind. . .the lilac my first girlfriend and I stole blooms from, filling a blue vase by the window over our bed, the scent drifting over us. . .the old “horsey” tree at my family farm, now long gone. . .

    At my last apartment I planted a clematis that grew up to the second floor, tall and strong. When I moved into my current house with my current partner, I planted another clematis that hasn’t made it past waist height in three years. . .I can’t help but read signs and signals in the natural world. . .even though that’s pretty egocentric it’s also how I feel connected. . . .

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