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     Beauty: The quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit; loveliness. – Merriam Webster Dictionary

Out where the old windmill once pulled up cool, precious water for survival on a dusty prairie now stand two lilac bushes, ready to blossom in purple splendor.

It is a rite of spring, these common plants of God’s nature promising their beauty in April and making good on that covenant in May.

City dwellers already enjoy the perfume of the lilac and the delicate lavender petals, but patience is required in unprotected areas where cold temperatures have delayed the long-awaited bloom.

What is it about the lilac that is so special? It is more than its beauty and fragrance. Some believe it is its heartiness and commonness that endears it to South Dakotans.

While on a drive recently in the eastern part of the state, I saw flower-filled lilacs standing tall in front of weathered, deserted farm homes. Farm families at times move on, or their children find other life callings, but the lilacs remain, reminding us that life continues on the land even after barns and homes turn gray with age and molder away.

Rivals abound for the lilac’s crown of natural beauty. When the wild yellow roses bloomed in early summer, their petals reflecting early morning sunshine, it was like a bank of soft gold dividing the cedar grove and our old farmhouse. However, as I learned the hard way as a boy, look but don’t touch the prickles. The wild rose loves to be seen and appreciated, not pruned for a bouquet.

This time of year, the flowering crabapple trees and flowering pear trees also are showstoppers. And then there are the radiant colors of the forsythia, azaleas, and rhododendrons. Add to the list chokecherries and plums.

But the lilac is more than pretty. It is practical.

Consider the grade-schooler who seeks some measure of attention, or forgiveness, from his teacher.  If he simply collects a bouquet of lilacs, borrows a vase from his mom, and presents it to his teacher he will be seen in a new and positive light.

Lilacs also have a special place among poets. Many poems have mentioned lilacs over the centuries, but probably none is better known than Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed,” which mourns President Lincoln’s death.

“In the dooryard fronting an old farmhouse near the white-washed palings, stands the lilac bush tall growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green. With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love. . . ”

May 10, 2017