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“Sweet Dreams, Lilac”


The smell of moist earth and lilacs hung in the air like wisps of the past and hints of the future.

(Margaret Millar)

Ahhhhhhh…the melodious scent of lilacs is practically enough to put me into a trance. I can’t really think of another more distinctly memorable essence with such direct links to my childhood. And I know that I’ve heard other people say the same such thought.

Spring is currently well under way in Virginia. We planted a small runt-like lilac bush in our front yard a few years ago. I mean it was super scrawny, we no doubt got it for a song and hoped for the best (which not coincidentally is about the extent of my green thumb).

My mother always told me it takes at least three years for a large plant or tree to really get going. Well, it’s not nearly as full, robust and lush as we hope it gets, but it has grown tall and it has a small bounty of blooms. I’ve been out taking a few photos of it, and any other traces of flora (or fauna) that I come across in our yard.

A few days ago, I got a pretty cool shot with our house in the background. Not an easy feat as the top blooms are taller than me. Then a few more yesterday, Easter Sunday. A day which is always a big marker for rebirth and Spring, of course.

I swear that you can almost smell them just by looking at the photos, but then once I bury my nose in them I can tell you inhaling their gorgeous fragrance makes all the difference!

Lilac House

“I made wine from the lilac tree/Put my heart in its recipe/It makes me see what I want to see/And be what I want to be”
(Nina Simone lyrics)

We had two lilac bushes in our yard when I was growing up. In my mind they were huge, at least five or six feet tall. But I haven’t been able to find any pictures of them at this point.

The last time my memories served to describe the height of something was when I was convinced that the waves at Old Orchard Beach in Maine were also huge, at least four to five feet. This was after a family trip there when I was no more than 5.

After photos surfaced a few years ago it was undeniable; the waves barely came up to my dad’s knees. I have no idea how many people I recounted those massive waves for? All I can do is shake my head. Still good memories.

Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart; I breathe at this hour the fragrance of the lilacs, the violets, and the roses, as at twenty years ago.

(Victor Hugo)

Lilacs (2)

I honestly think I’ve yet to hear anyone say that they cannot stand the smell of lilacs. Almost everyone remembers someone’s lilac bush from their youth; be it at their own house, their grandmother’s, a neighbor’s. One person recalled to me the lovely image of the fragrant bushes outside her childhood library.

In fact, it’s science. Without getting too technical, of our five senses, it’s the one most closely linked to memory and emotion. Olfactory information, i.e. scents or smells, are the only sense that pass through the areas of the brain called the amygdala and the hippocampus, and as they do it’s there that they can trigger strong emotions and memories.

A number of behavioral studies have demonstrated that smells trigger more vivid emotional memories and are better at inducing that feeling of “being brought back in time” than images. 

(Amanda White, research technologist in the Psychiatry Department at Penn State College of Medicine)

While I should note that they can and do undoubtedly bring up both good and bad memories, it sure is lovely when it’s pleasant ones. Popcorn at the movie theater is another one for me. Also, french fries at the hockey rink always takes me right back. A garden after it has recently rained transports me to another place and time. I’m sure there are many others, too. How about you?


Nothing is more wistful than the scent of lilac, nor more robust than its woody stalk, for we must remember that it is a tree as well as a flower, we must try not to forget this …

(Stevie Smith)

— Raina K Morton 17 April 2017

  1. [The technical information is from here ]
  2. [The title is a quote from the 1999 comedy film Mystery Men said by Ben Stiller as Mr. Furious. It’s a classic. This was for my kids]

1 thought on ““Sweet Dreams, Lilac””

  1. How I miss the smell of lilacs! And spring in Virginia in general. This time of year makes me a little homesick for the abundance of lush and beautiful sights and scents in Virginia. Thanks for posting these beautiful pics, Raina. Makes me feel like I can actually smell and almost touch them. Love and miss you.

    Liked by 1 person

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