Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The lavender thief

I am generally a respecter of private property, not least in my own neighborhood. Every year, walking, I pass thousands and thousands of houses, and it is a rare thing indeed for me to step a single inch off the public sidewalk. Perhaps I will shyly do it a couple times in the spring with my wife to smell a magnolia or lilac or two, and possibly petting a stray cat will bring my toes or knee onto someone's road verge, but that's the extent of it. 

If a neighbor is growing tomatoes and those tomatoes are ripely and gloriously bulging out over the path I primly look the other way. A hedge of raspberries might be teeming with fruit and falling to the ground ripe and abandoned, but I manage to resist. Not a single one of those berries is mine. And I wouldn't dare to cut across anyone's yard for a short cut, even if I'm in a hurry. I'd feel just weird being in someone else's yard. I just stay out.

And as to flowers, well, I like looking at them. This is indeed a lovely time for it. I look a lot, but I would think myself mad if I started cutting myself a bouquet. I would never dream of popping up the path of some pretty house, pulling out my penknife, and clipping a few Asters for myself or something. What kind of person, I ask you, would reach into someone's yard and pluck out flowers that a person carefully planted and nurtured and grew just to make their yard, and the very world I'm walking in, prettier?

Me, it turns out.

I am that person.

I am absolutely incapable of walking past a blooming lavender plant and not pulling off a bit of flower. I take a little snip right from the end without ever breaking my stride. I roll and crush the small stalk of flower in my fingers and then I smell it. The smell to me is Summer. Right now I feel I can smell the ghost of lavender I crushed in my fingers on my walk in the morning 12 hours ago. I stole flowers from at least three different big, sidewalk verging, lavender plants. I will do it again tomorrow, from every single lavender plant I pass. It is a tithe I take from the world. It is the reason for summer.

Is it a crime? I ask you. Is it a sin?

Of course it is, but what a tiny one! The plants all live heartily on. The homeowners are oblivious. And without it the whole hot steaming mess of Summer would have no point. We might as well close up this place at the end of spring. We might as well shut down the world until the leaves have started to change color and there is a hint of bite to the wind. July and August have no beating heart without the smell of crushed lavender. Lavender saves summer.

Could I grow some lavender of my own? Alas, first of all I doubt I could because my yard is too shady. But more importantly I am beginning to think that lavender doesn't quite smell right if it is properly obtained. It has to be stolen wantonly and with religious consistency for its soft purple smell to come all the way out. Lavender, while lovely, is only made into summer by truancy and vandalism. I am here to do it.

I am the lavender thief.


  1. I wish you would walk past my house. The lavender bushes in my front garden are the bullies of the patch, crowding out the roses and threatening to envelop the mailbox. They scratch at my husband's car as he backs out of the driveway. Take all you want! I hate it! Although once I got in a very bad mood and decided to chop it all down to very small thin columns and in the midst of my rage, I was suddenly like a cat with catnip, purring and rolling around and peaceful, it smelled so good.

    I tend to do what you do, as well. But I do it with rosemary shrubs. I pull off the end of a stem and rub it all over the palms of my hands. I love that smell.

    1. Yes, I think I would be the same way with Rosemary, and I might even like it better than lavender, but we don't really have that growing up here on the North Coast. That's what we're supposed to call it now, the north coast. I read about it in Minnesota Monthly Magazine.

      Also, crowding out roses seems rough. Roses, after all, are better than lavender too. Who knew so many things were better than lavender? We had a vase of roses at the front desk of the library this week and I never found out how they got there. They were lovely but did not smell much. Tonight a woman came up to smell them and said they were not real roses. "I am from Egypt" she said in a strong and challenging to understand accent "And in Egypt all the roses have a beautiful smell."

  2. Someone just chopped out a large chunk of my lavender hedge with some kind of scissors so sad as it’s looking very bad now with the old wood showing so someone went at it with scissors or something sharp leaving a big chunk bare, it looks awful! No one ever did this in my previous garden only since I move to the US. I wish it didn’t happen but my plants keep going!

    1. Scissors? Going to some strangers yard to hack out chunks of a lavender hedge with scissors seems deranged! Let me assure you that not everyone in the U.S. is deranged, only about 60% of us.


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