It was almost midnight by the time my delayed flight landed in Spokane. I followed the stream of weary passengers through the terminal and met my husband at the door.
We drove silently home in the dark .The window was open and I caught a whisper of fragrance in the soft air but, exhausted, I tipped my head back against the seat and closed my eyes and let it go.
By the time we were home I was fighting sleep, thinking only of getting into bed. But, as I waited while my husband unlocked the back door I noticed the same sweet scent that had drifted through the car earlier and this time I immediately knew what it was. Lilacs. It was too dark to see but I realized that during the week I’d been away Spokane’s bounty of lilacs had bloomed. My lilacs had bloomed. Spring was here at last and its heady perfume was everywhere.
I was home.
The next morning I walked out to the corner of the backyard where my lilacs grow, to the source of the sweet fragrance of the night before. Heavy purple blossoms pulled at the limbs making an arch of blooms over my grandmother’s old wrought iron bench. I sat there a few minutes breathing, basking in the scented air, perfectly content to be tucked into a quiet corner of my own.
That evening as I walked through Manito Park, my little dog dancing at the end of his leash, I heard voices coming from the lilac garden. I turned and stepped onto the path that threads through tall trees and shrubs covered in flowers. Some were the same dark purple that grow in my yard. Others were much lighter, some where white. All around me men, women and children were stopping to admire each one. They looked closely at the cascade of tiny flowers that make each blossom and then leaned in, almost burying their faces into the bloom. I counted at least five picnics and suspected there were others in more hidden places in the garden. A couple sat on a blanket, sharing a meal. A man sat cross-legged in front of an open pizza box, reading while he ate. A family with young children stretched out on the grass while the children played, squealing and laughing while they chased one another.
I felt as though I’d stepped into a painting or wandered into an elaborately staged play. It was perfect. People of all ages drawn to a beautiful public place and celebrating something that happens only once a year.
Somehow, it always comes back to this park. When Spokane frustrates me, when I grow tired of the politics of city government or exasperated by some perceived lack of progress; when I think I cannot be truly happy here, some small thing I see as I walk through Manito Park saves me. I soften and forgive. In the winter it is the sound of children laughing as they fly down the sledding hill. In the fall it is the color of the leaves. In the summer it is the pool of cool air that settles over Duncan Gardens each evening and the splendor of the rose garden at the top of the hill. In the spring it is this abundance of lilacs.
For all its failings, and every city has them, this 90-acre oasis in the middle of a residential area is one of Spokane’s greatest achievements. For more than 100 years it’s been drawing people to stroll the winding paths bordered by tall trees, to watch the ducks glide along the mirrored surface of the pond, to stop and smell the flowers. For a city of its size, Spokane is rich in parks and Manito is the crown jewel.
My little dog and I walked home. With the scent of lilacs still lingering in my hair, I thought about the power beauty holds over us. How an ordinary green tree can shower us with fragrance and color and change, for a while anyway, the way we see the world.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com