As a child I marked, with special reverence, the clockwork of spring flowers. The bulbs and blooms of spring in New England were reliable timepieces by which a child might know what clothes to wear or anticipate the end of the school year. Snowdrops were rare and hard to find, and grew right up out of the snow in early March. Their camouflaged white blooms suggested that snowdrops were not brave enough to believe in any color other than snow. Because of their timid approach to color, snowdrops didn't seem to promise much. And so when you saw one, all that it meant was that there was still some time to go before the earmuffs came off.
Crocuses were another matter entirely. They popped up somewhere around St. Patrick's Day. Crocuses were like Easter eggs that grew out of the ground, or armies of gnomes emerging from hibernation. When the crocuses came up, it was time to switch from winter parkas to spring jackets. Daffodils usually appeared by the first week of April. They had a habit of lining up along rock walls as if keeping an ordered vigil for the transformation they heralded. If daffodils were blooming, the concept of warm weather outdoor sports crept into the mind like a distant memory, and one might be inclined to make a few rusty passes at the basketball hoop.
Tulips were the all-clear signal. Neither diminutive like crocuses, nor wispy and slight like daffodils, tulips stood like the Queen's guards, boldly confirming that, if you wanted to go to the Boston Public Garden and drift on the stately Swan Boats there, it was now okay to do so. The most subversive bloom of spring, however, were the lilacs of late May and early June. When lilacs bloomed, you knew you could go outside in a t-shirt, but, more importantly, their intense, seductive aroma promised one thing specifically. The smell of lilacs meant that the end of the school year was fast approaching. God forbid a lilac be in bloom outside an open window at school. If so, concentration on the three Rs was impossible. Though other flowers were still to come, summer blooms like azaleas and roses did not have the same effect as spring blooms. Unlike spring flowers, which were all about change and anticipation, summer flowers were sleepy and languid and were more about time standing still. For, as every child knew, once summer arrived, it would surely never end.
Copyright 2006© Kevin Shortsleeve
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