The Antique Lilac

This year, after a miserably long and cold Michigan winter, the natural world up North is full of blooming wonders.  And one of the most remarkable examples of the exuberance of this spring is the antique lilac that lay on the ground for years behind the forsythia out by the road,  and which we hoisted up a couple of years back with a clothes-line tied off on a cedar stump.  In past years, if there were a bloom or two we were impressed.  But this year, the lilac, here to prove that age has nothing to do with vitality and creativity, has done itself proud.  Virginia Woolf said "I don't believe in aging.  I believe in forever altering one's aspect to the sun."   I guess we helped the lilac do that:  we altered the lilac's aspect to the sun.  Interesting to ask ourselves how we do that for each other.


The Antique Lilac


Bit by bit

we lift it

back into the sunlight.

It’s grown

for years

hidden and bent,


along the ground

beneath the tangled pines

down by the road.


(Until last year

I didn’t know

that it was there at all.)

So in my decades

here, in this my

cottage homestead

on the lake,

it’s grown in darkness,


against the odds.



Now rediscovered,

it’s a mad profusion

of huge grape-like blooms

heavy and rich, deep purple,

hanging high in sunlight

where we’ve propped it

with a clothesline pole



made of a two-by-four,

and resting on a rope

between two trees.


It fairly shouts of beauty.

If it could sing, 

it would sing opera

and you would hear it

clear across the lake.


One has to meet it,

such a twisted,

tangled thing,

where it has grown

over the years,

and move it gently,


toward the light—

A hundred year old lilac

doesn’t invite 

sudden change—

It needs encouragement and space,

time and support,

to grow into the light

from which it first

took root.


Judy Brown

Michigan, May 17, 2010

-from The Art and Spirit of Leadership