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A Wilderness of Sweets

“Our garden is now a wilderness of sweets. The violets, sweet briar, and primroses perfume the air, and the thrushes are full of melody and make our concert complete. It is the pleasantest music I have heard this year, and refreshes my spirits without the alloy of a tumultuous crowd, which attends all other concerts.” ~Mary Delany (“Mrs. Delany”)

*Mary Delany, most commonly known as “Mrs. Delany,” was an eighteenth century English artist, bluestocking and famed letter-writer. She is perhaps most known for her gorgeous, botanical illustrations, which she called her ‘paper mosiacks.” Some are featured here.

When the buds first begin to unfurl, and it feels like all of earth is awakening, I often forgo music to listen to the birdsong and other melodies of spring. What can compare with the first runnings of a stream, set in motion by melting ice, or the early strumming of crickets and the first night of bullfrog baritone? When winter finally releases its five or six-month hold on Maine, I don’t want to miss a beat of spring’s symphony. As I set about weeding and planting, sometimes I consider starting some music to accompany me, but I always decide against it. I can listen to my favorite songs any day of any week in any season. But the thrum of a robin’s jubilant chirping, the bees’ hum, the silky rustle of light breezes through tender leaves in their first flush of green feel like rare and precious privileges I would be foolish to squander. So, like Mrs. Delany exalts, the gentle, sweet harmony of spring “refreshes my spirits” in solitude; it’s a concert unlike “all other concerts.” And the only cost is attention.

For Mrs. Delany, the “violets, sweet briar, and primroses perfume the air,” while currently, it is lilacs, honeysuckle, and dianthus scenting my days. In late May and early June, I am lured out on long runs by the promise of honeysuckle drenching the air on my extended route. I look forward to this fragrant reward all year, and evening runs are prime for enjoying the scent. As my daughters have grown older, I’ve noticed they have picked up my penchant for pausing and noting fragrances from blooming bushes carried on air. They will often pause and say something like, “Oh, mom, smell that! So sweet! Mmmm!” I realize that I learned this habit from my own mother. It is part of her legacy of noticing and attending to the Created world.

The sounds and scents of a season have the power to anchor us, if only for a moment, to the present. Whatever the day’s cares and concerns, whatever plans for the remaining hours fill our minds, all is momentarily and blissfully interrupted by our sensory attentiveness to a sound or a fragrance. And what a gift.

What sounds of spring and early summer are your favorite? Do you give yourself permission to pause and listen for a while? What fragrant plants and blooms surround your usual paths right now? Do you let their scents interrupt the flow of your thoughts and your day long enough to be refreshed by them?

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