The Little Girl Under Lilacs (Syringa Vulgaris)
Running around on the famous Zhongyang Street of Harbin, China, with the well-known vanilla cream popsicle in hand, this four years old girl in a not-so-stylish purple dress could tell you all about her favorite season of the year. It’s mid-April, the sun is up high in the azure sky but it always feels like it’s just an inch above the head. The popsicle is melting rapidly under the warm temperature, so the little girl slows down her steps and stands still to avoid the melted popsicle dripping on her favorite dress, so she squats under the shade that is provided by the bush of flowers that matches her dress color.
The plant she’s hiding under isn’t gigantic but it’s tall enough to provide some shade for a 40-inch girl. The bush isn’t in bright color either but it’s purple enough that the little girl’s dress is almost camouflaging her into the purple bush. While enjoying the taste of almost summer, she can’t help but notice the outstanding smell of the bush. She lifts her left arm up high towards the sky and tries to touch the petals. After several attempts, she feels the softness of the outermost petal. The little girl feels the calmness while standing in the middle of a noisy street. She takes a deep breath in, the sudden breeze carries the flora scent into her nose and the scent travels through her lung. She closes her eyes and her lips curved upwards. It is the feeling of joy and satisfaction. She then looks at her grandma and asks what flower this is that smells like happiness. Grandma tells her that this elegant bush of flower is known as bush lilac, and it is also known as Harbin’s city flower. Those flowers tend to bloom around May, which is also why Harbin is crowned as “a city of lilacs.” Later, she learns that Lilac’s floriography–its ‘meaning’–is naiveness, humbleness, and purity which precisely represents northern Chinese characteristics.
Harbin’s spring tends to arrive late and leaves early, and the bloom of lilacs seems to be making up for the short lasting spring. Few years later, the little girl grew up and the city expanded as well. Zhongyang Street is now filled with tourists, there’s often a line for the popsicles, the crowdedness makes the street unavailable for her to run around, and most bushes of lilacs have turned into different stores on each side of the street. As time passed by, it seems like everything has changed in one way or the other, but that little bush of lilacs has always had a place in the little girl’s heart.
The little girl is now a mature young lady living across the Pacific Ocean, 6000 miles away from her hometown, where the bush lilacs almost doesn’t exist. But she never forgets what the little petals smells like, what the soft petal feels like, and most importantly what the purple lilacs represents. Whenever the girl is back at this not so little town, she would always wait in line once more for her favorite vanilla popsicle and try to spot a bush of purple lilacs on Zhongyang Street. The girl has grown, the street has changed, the city has expanded, but the purple lilacs have always been the same in her heart. And no matter how far away she is from home, she always knows that a piece of her belongs to Harbin and a piece of the purple lilacs on the Zhongyang Street belongs to her.
Author: Lucy (Xinyu) Zhang. Lucy is an undergraduate student studying Data Science and Economics at the University of California, Berkeley.
For another story about urban plants, read “Of Healers and Weavers: Bayabas”