In Indiana, we could find it a block away from my childhood home, massed on the fence of a dilapidated and rather menacing house. Eruptions of loud music and acrid chemical odors were the only signs of life from this ramshackle, which we generally avoided on our evening walks. But there was always a night in early June when Mama or Daddy or I would step onto the front porch, inhale the evening air, and say, “Oh, I smell the honeysuckle.” On those nights, we would venture near the fence, risking the wretched house for a deeper breath of that wild perfume.
In Tennessee, it spangled the trees along the walking trail behind campus. I would walk for hours, back and forth, back and forth, first through the winter, when the trees were bare, and into spring, when evening sun and young leaves made a tunnel of green. A little girl who lived along the railroad tracks met me there one evening, just a week before I was to graduate and leave Tennessee. She was riding her bike, and stopped to ask me if I was a gypsy, and if I knew her teacher, and if I knew her mama, and if I knew where the trains went, and if knew how to suck the sweetness out of honeysuckle. I didn’t, and she taught me.
In Texas, I first found it in the alleyways near my garage apartment. Tangled along back fences and dumpsters, its scent often startled me as I carried the trash to throw out, or walked my landlords’ dog in the evening. Here, in my second apartment, it overruns the riverside, and, mingling with the grape vines, covers my favorite shelter with a sweet canopy.
I know it comes every spring. I know the places it loves to grow, and the kinds of breezes that carry its scent. But the scent of honeysuckle always surprises me, always catches me unaware as I try to rush through a late spring night, weary and worried with papers to write and grade.
Startled, then stilled, by a sweetness I neither tended nor expected: this is one way I know I am home.