Wisteria 1920 1080 Abigail Thomas

A skinny stick with gnarly roots set in a glass cylinder of water sat on my desk for months looking about as dead as dead gets. Now, at the tail end of January, it is suddenly alive. Alive and growing! It’s a wisteria vine, my daughter Catherine bought it for me, and although neither of us held out much hope, the new green leafy stem is growing three and four inches every day. And not only that, but there are now seven other stems with leaves that I swear were not there this morning.

It’s like a science fiction movie. I imagine sitting in the living room, looking up to find dozens more branches (because pretty soon they will be branches, not stems) wending their way up the walls and windows, across the ceiling, turning my room into a green cave, hung with lavender blue blooms.

I watch the wisteria every day. It does have branches now, and a long prehistoric looking frond that is reaching upward and out, looking for something to attach itself to. It reminds me of the antenna of a living creature, sensing where it is, wondering where next to go. My daughter swears we could probably watch it growing, if we stood still and stared. It seems all its energy is going into the reach, the leaves remain tiny buds on this part of the plant. Any day now, we will find out where it’s going. Soon there will be another vine, and another.

My friend Cathy says she thinks there are two kinds of people: those who are willing to take the long way, and those who just want to get there, wherever there happens to be. Cathy lives in Missouri where I have never been, she likes to explore, she likes to take her time, so when she and her husband set off somewhere, to visit her sister maybe, they take the long way. I love this distinction. Which kind of person am I? Where am I going? I’m going back sixty-five years. The place is still there, I could hop in my car and be there in less than two hours. That would be the short way. My fear is that everything might look the same but feel different, and I want to return only to what I remember. That’s a different kind of journey.

Wisteria wants to go everywhere at once, those vines will search out every crack, invade every crevice, climb any wall, undermine any foundation. Clinging to whatever it encounters, wisteria overwhelms every other growing thing in its path, all the while festooning the world with those lavender blue blossoms. This is what my gardener friend Karin warned me about. “It will take over everything,” she said, as if this were a bad thing.

We lived in a white house on a bend in the road that wound its way down to the Hudson River, there were tides, streams, a waterfall, woods. There was also a boy. Wisteria grew over my bedroom windows, the fragrance from its trembling blossoms, too delicate, too sweet, too tender for words. I think of the boy in the same breath as I think of wisteria, and I’m headed back to a summer afternoon when that boy taught a shy, hesitant fifteen-year-old girl, very gently, what a French kiss felt like. Sixty-five years ago. When my wisteria blooms.

Header photograph © Barren Magazine.

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