Saturday, June 27, 2009

Evening of Flowering Trees

Friday evening, it is still plenty warm when we set off after 9:00, down to 81 degrees after being in the 90s during the day. The light in the sky is still a bright slate blue behind us, reflecting off the glass towers of downtown as we approach River Road. At the Stone Arch Bridge, many people - families, couples, friends - are also drawn by the evening's relative coolness to stroll over the water in the darkening evening, a slender newish moon hovering over the condominiums and improbable-looking, asymmetrical new Guthrie Theater, its slender vertical marquees spelling out bright neon names of the three Tony Kushner plays being offered (none of which I have managed to take in).

Two women walk past, with their mismatched dogs, a tiny terrier and a happy young bulldog; the women lean toward each other, their perfume wafting past.

A large, sagging, shapeless man surges by on his motorized wheelchair, headlights beaming.

Three young adults sit on the stone ledge facing the walkway, drinking from a large jar of something orange - laughing and silly. (They are still there when we walk back.)

The evening deepens as we cross the bridge and turn around to walk back. I'm out of shape. We don't talk much. I have forgotten my camera, so take some pictures with my cell phone (fuzzy but capturing a bit of the late evening scene, still not full night though close to 10 o'clock).

When we get home, the air around our house is full of a light perfume. I spend a while outdoors just breathing it in. The smell triggers memories of the summers a few years ago when I was on a 10-month contract, from late June to late August off. Those summers were spent diving back into work on my Endless Dissertation, which allowed me to go to my tiny rented office and spend long afternoons and evenings, reading, journaling, pacing the hallways of the converted high school now home to small enterprises (alternative medicine, ecological study centers, lawyer and therapist offices for people doing it as an extra job). The Bookhouse was a half-block away, home to a large collection of used books, including women's studies, religion, and philosophy. Because I was researching popular feminist spirituality, it was a good source of material - and a great place to lose any sense of time.

Somehow, the academic work I needed to do could proceed only when I kept up to date with sleep, dreamwork, and meditation. It took me a while to figure that out. At the end of each summer through those years, I would reluctantly go back to my job, and despite my best efforts, the whole creative gestalt of the summer would grind to a halt, and I would be stalled out until the next summer.

The evening smell of the trees brings back memories of my dissertation summers, because I was sleeping during that time by an open window, with the fan upstairs pulling the hot air out and the night air in across my face. I smelled the perfume in the night and couldn't for the longest time figure out where it came from. Finally it dawned on me it came from the boulevard trees, those slender trees put in by the city after all the elms died.

Now, they are spreading wide, shading both the street and much of the yard, joining branches across the street, and stretching out over the roof. I hadn't noticed until recently that they had grown so big. They are loaded with the little white blossoms now that fill the air all around the neighborhood with a smell something like lily of the valley, only not so cloying. They started blooming just after the solstice, and are now at full bloom.

Something about the light perfume filling all the air around us, something about the memories, perhaps because it's Friday evening and the weekend still stretches out as an unbroken lake of possibility, puts me into the edge of a state of kairos - the kind of time very different from chronos, where it's business as usual, work-a-day, clock time. Kairos edges out chronos, too, when life is broken open, by birth or death, or by some unexpected gift. When I'm writing from a place of truth, I'm in kairos. Meeting for Worship, when it's truly "gathered" or "covered," shares this quality, a still, waiting, listening - time-out-of-time. It's walking through the cupboard into Narnia (or the place between the worlds). It's akin to Buber's I and Thou encounters, face to face with ultimacy in truly meeting a loved one, a piece of art, or, for Buber, even a cat or tree (Buber had to stretch quite a bit to allow for cats and trees, but I don't).

Here's a picture of one of the boulevard trees taken this morning - click to expand. I'm sure there are other people who would be able to identify what it is, but I really don't know.

(Later: I looked it up here.)


ellen abbott said...

Lovely post Mary Ellen. I am there.

ps I think it might be a fringe tree. Don't ask me why I think that, it just popped into my head.

Laoch of Chicago said...

Very fine post!

darsden said...

oooh I felt as if I was right beside you that was a lovely visit :-) nice pictures too

Reya Mellicker said...

What a beautiful and evocative post. Smell is such a primitive sense, and so potent! It's my "best" sense - both a blessing and a curse.

There's a way at the solstices that time loops around and memories of solstices past come up.

Thanks so much for taking me on your walk with you. You're in better shape than you think you are!

Mary Ellen said...

I did some searching, and it appears my boulevard trees are linden trees - I never knew! When we were in Berlin, the tree came up (song title?): "unter den linden" - and once I had a dream in which "linden trees" figured and I put it into a poem, but I didn't make the connection with these trees. Kind of exciting!

Leone said...

I have heard of the linden tree but never seen one before. It is beautiful. I really enjoyed going along on your walk with you, thank you for the lovely descriptive writing. I could almost smell the linden tree.

Madame DeFarge said...

This was a lovely post. Sadly, I'm stuck in London this weekend, breathing in traffic fumes. Would love to be amongst some greenery and fragrance.

Pop and Ice said...

What lovely photos and a wistful feeling of times past. Every year I wait for the Lilacs to bloom and I'm transported back to my childhood where their lovely fragrance wafted through my bedroom window.

Eco Yogini said...

i agree- so wistful. and wonderful... i have similar memories of summers- inspiring and magical. :)

Leone said...

I just found a blog called and she talks about the scent of linden and lenden tea. I thought you might be interested in seeint it.