The lilac next to the front doorway celebrates the Queen's birthday with purple fireworks and dark green hearts. Budding branches of an ash long since turned into firewood scratch fingernail lines across the red painted wall of a barn that has tumbled back to earth. Children's voices echo off the trunks of Northern Spys and Macintoshes in an orchard that lies under the new growth pines and poplars.
A breeze moves the plank and rope swing through the air that used to an elm branch, transformed by the Dutch disease.
Ghosts live here now. Ghosts and memories. They aren't my memories, my ghosts either for that matter. I drive past that great purple bush every day on the way to my present, heading toward my future, and right through someone's past. Today, Thursday (but I've got time) I stop and gather some flowers.
Picking my way across the ditch, I stumble on a stone, maybe six feet from the flowers. A foundation stone, actually, there's a line of them. A square of them. A house-sized wall of them, holding up nothing, keeping nothing out, but somehow still holding everything in. The wild raspberries and goldenrod have moved into the cellar, but their years of winter mulching hasn’t completely filled the hollow that once held the potatoes and onions and hard squashes that fed through the winter the family that was here.
There’s time (I checked my watch) so my feet carry me around the perimeter of the house I can't see. This smooth slab was the front doorsill. I remember hearing in my recent history that in the early history of this land, settlers, United Empire Loyalists escaping bloody battle and fearsome freedom in the colonies came here with their few possessions and planted a lilac by the front door. It was superstition decorated as custom. If the pretty sapling could survive this wilderness, so could they. The wilderness is coming back to claim it’s territory, though. I look beyond this small house footprint and see that the new growth and not-so-new growth forest is healing the battlescars of man. I spy an apple tree, maybe a handful more but their flowers are shielded from the honeybees. They bloom anyway, but the pines and swamp maples are beating back this human incursion.
The lilac defies them, unwilling to surrender the corner it guards. The house it defended is dust, the people too I imagine. The oldest history of this place, before the Loyalists, before the foundation and the barn and the apple trees is erasing the Sunday dinners and crying babies and the sweep of the broom on this slab doorway.
If the lilac could survive, so could they. They just had to pull up a budded shoot and go somewhere else to try again.