Posted by: jevcat | April 21, 2010

Spring Pilgrimage to Brooklyn

Unemployment has its compensations and its moral dilemmas, and sometimes the former lead to the latter.  On a perfectly glorious spring day, I faced the question of whether to stay home and continue the so-far futile search for an ever-more needed job or to head out to into the sunshine and air and toward the Brooklyn Botanic Garden?  Would the latter, be simply denial and running away?  It turned out, Tuesdays are free at BBG:  decision made.

A visit to the Brooklyn garden when the lilacs are in bloom is a rite of spring for me.  Although we lived closer to and spent more time at the Bronx Botanic Garden when I was a child, every spring my father would take me out to the Brooklyn one to see the lilacs.  Oddly, I never remember my mother being with us, although lilacs were her favorite flower, and what I always gave her for Mother’s Day. 

Both parents are gone more than a decade, but I still make the annual pilgrimage.  I try to time it so I catch the lilacs in full bloom and the cherry blossoms still present.  On years when everything works just right, you get both, and this was one of those years – even if it is a few weeks earlier than usual.

The lilacs at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden are amazing.  Coming in at the gate right by the 2 and 3 train and next to the Brooklyn Museum, you walk down the lawn bordered by brilliant azaleas, remains of the old wisteria arbors on either side with their dripping pale lavender blossoms.  The grass is so thick I usually can’t resist taking my shoes and socks off and walking barefoot down its length, stopping periodically to just wiggle my toes and savor the green lushness. 

A little further on, you smell the lilacs before you see them – and people come from all over the world to see them:  the lilac junkies; I just don’t have to travel as far as many.  You can spot us:  we’re the ones staggering from bush to bush like drunken bumble bees, burying our faces in the blossoms and pollen be damned, inhaling deeply, then stumbling on to the next bush in a histamine haze.  The colors range from snowy white through a pale almost pink and every shade of lilac to almost violet, and they fill a whole corner of the garden.

Generally, I like the lavender ones better than the white, because the scents tend to be stronger, but a couple of the paler ones had particularly lovely scents today.  Despite my usual preference for the darker ones, one spring when I was in my 20s and pining over lost love, white lilacs inspired one of the few rhymed poems I ever wrote:

     Pick me white lilacs to wear in my hair

     Hold me a night and a day

     Sing me a song just for my ears alone,

     Then you can go on your way.

          Hold back the dawn-time for one hour more

          Don’t let the blessed dark die

          Love me oh just one more time ere you go,

          With kisses give your goodbye.

I always thought it should be set to some plaintive folk melody.  I’ve never really tried, but I still think of it every year when I see the lilacs.

When I’m done OD-ing on the lilacs, I amble over to the Cherry Tree Esplanade, with its regiment of pink ladies marching down either side.  If you walk through towards the end of their season and a breeze stirs, you can find yourself in what resembles a pink blizzard.  I once nearly walked into a tree, having closed my eyes to better feel the soft flicker of falling petals on my face.  Another time a friend, sharing my pilgrimage, spotted a very young girl in a ruffled pink chiffon dress and crinoline skipping under the trees, giggled and whispered to me, “She looks as though she just dropped off one of the branches.”  I think of that, every year, too, and imagine that friend now appreciating lilacs and cherry blossoms in a place even more heaven-ly than Brooklyn.

From there, I head to the Japanese Garden-within-the-garden.  Red maples and cherry blossoms and cedars reflect in the still waters of the pond, where koi patrol for forbidden treats surreptitiously dropped by tourists and turtles bask on bare rocks by a little waterfall.  I usually make the whole loop around the pond and spend a little time in the house over the water by the entrance, watching the fish, the turtles, and the tourists.  Today there were a couple of mallards paddling around, too.

A swing through the Shakespeare Garden and I’m by the conservatory, the restrooms, the water-lily ponds – at this time of year bordered by tulips – and the outdoor café, where the food is actually enjoyable.  I made it through the rock garden this year, too, with its boulders carried from as far away as the Adirondacks and the Atlantic Highlands.

I had planned a quick trip and then home in time to do enough work to justify the detour, but, as usual, the gardens seduced me, and I think it was past three by the time I could tear myself away.  On the way out, I got a chuckle watching one couple, the wife looking at the flowers, the husband happily focusing his camera on a small parked tractor that was used by the garden staff:  the male/female dichotomy in a nutshell.

Tomorrow, back to work – or the search for same.  For today, I have no regrets.


  1. This is one of the most beautiful and heart felt remembrances of Linda I have seen or heard.
    It is comforting to know that you think of her as I do,missing her, yet knowing that she is giving us her inimitable giggle.

  2. Hi there, a beautiful tour of the gardens, wish I had gone too. Oh yeah, I was working!

  3. It’s been years since I went to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (the last time with a two-year-old boy I was babysitting). Thanks for taking me back there. Truly, a garden of earthly delights. I’m glad to see that you are able to enjoy yourself, even in these uncertain times. The blessings of the moment (the day) at hand become more important; not less, when we’re struggling.

  4. Great as usual.

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