Up through the third grade, we lived so close to our elementary school that some of my friends and I walked to and from classes so long as the weather cooperated. We always cut through an alleyway that severed our block into four parts. And in that alley along a neighbor’s fence, a verdant growth of vines hid an entire back yard. But it wasn’t the yard or the house beyond that we cared about.
The vine was Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). We could smell it from twenty paces away. It called to us like a lover. We could spend quite some time picking the flowers and suckling the nectar, let alone just standing and bathing in the sweet perfume that filled the air.
The first girl I ever kissed hid with me behind such a vine. There we drank of the plant’s offering before stealing an unexpected moment of childhood intimacy. I almost missed her lips because I was so drunk on the sweet summer scent of the flowers that hovered around us. Or was it my nervousness? Probably both.
It’s said that we always measure every kiss in our life against the first kiss. These many years later I’m sure no other kiss ever tasted so sweet.
So many memories are defined by that irresistible aroma that formed a cloud and hung thick in summer air. So many rites of passage come back to this plant, that smell, the quick taste upon my tongue. So many moments from long ago stand measured by those yellow and white flowers.
Now decades later, I’m halted in my tracks each time I smell it, each time I see the telltale blooms. Even now I always stop to let the ambrosia pass over my lips. And I remember.
I realize Japanese honeysuckle is considered a problematic invasive species in North America, though calling it “invasive” is misleading since it was introduced intentionally (it certainly didn’t swim here from Japan). Regardless of its status, it holds some of my fondest memories of childhood. Besides, its introduction has had consequences orders of magnitude less severe than that of kudzu (Pueraria lobata) and sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora), both also from Japan.
[I know I said I would write about my México travels. I still intend to do that, but I decided it would be best to do it after I return to the US. That allows me to focus more on the experience and less on trying to keep up with it in writing. Putting more time into it later will make it more meaningful in my opinion. Or at least less rushed. So for now I’ll publish some of the many drafts I have at the ready.]