It is locust season here in Southwest Virginia. No, not the cicadas that swarm in 17-year cycles, but the bloom season of the black locust trees, rubinia pseudoacacia. Locusts are members of the pea family, albeit peas on growth hormone and, well, ugly pills.
The black locust is a bit like one of Cindarella’s stepsisters – the tree is scraggly, mis-shapen, and covered in unpleasant thorns. Well, okay, Cinderella’s stepsisters weren’t exactly thorny, but they shared the personality of a brier patch festooned in poison ivy; I digress. When I was a kid, the only trees in our back yard were locusts. They meant that anyone walking barefoot there ran the risk a painful encounter; they were too straight to climb, too scrawny to provide much shade (and they were on the north side of the yard, in any case), and too thorny to play under. They blighted every year in late summer, as some beetle invaded them and turned the leaves an unsightly brown. What a waste of tree-hood!
But every May, these ugly, intractable trees bloomed clouds of white flowers with pale yellow tongues, hanging in festive panicles. From a distance, a blooming locust looks soft and white, and up close, the tree itself seems to hum with the happy activity of bees. Locust honey is its own thing – some apiaries specialize in it, and no wonder. Locust flowers make up for a lot of year-round ugliness.
When we were kids, the locust blooms were a sure sign of impending summer, of (ironically) barefoot-weather, and their heavenly fragrance wafted in our windows at night. The smell of locust blooms, like the smell of lilacs, reminds me of home.
Yesterday evening, I met my Beloved and our son for dinner at a local restaurant. We sat outside on a wooden deck built around several locust trees. Their white petals made the benches look like one of the more frou-frou wedding venues, but the smell! It’s still got the power to make me feel a lot younger and a lot more hopeful. And smarmy as it is, the locust bloom reminds me that even the ugliest things can have something beautiful tucked away inside them, waiting for the right time to bloom.