One of my favorite books, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom begins “It was the summer of wisteria….” The description that follows, of a house literally inside the wisteria, is astonishingly beautiful. Wisteria grows around here too. It blooms at Easter, for a brief period, and then it turns grey and pods appear where the grape-like clusters were. We’re either too far north for it to be scented, or we aren’t growing the right kind, but wisteria in Northern California is not the wisteria Faulkner knew.
Last night, lying in bed, the window open, the room was permeated with the jasmine that grows in great hedges all around us. Where I live, summer smells like star jasmine. Star jasmine grows on vines that mass into hedges of glossy green leaves and tiny white flowers. Its scent is exotic, but not very strong. It’s a little mysterious. You find yourself wondering what it is, before you remember that it must be jasmine. It makes even walking around the neighborhood an adventure. Outside this morning, working on my novel, it’s perfuming our yard and the summer.
Here’s something surprising: After writing this, and because I don’t have the book handy, I went over to Amazon, to see if my memory of the book matches the reality. Turns out, I’m wildly off mark. The scene with the wisteria isn’t anywhere to be found in the first pages. My guess is that I didn’t just dream this up, but that it occurs a bit later. It’s just that the book must have begun for me there, in the dreamy, wisteria-scented bedroom rather than in the dusty office the narrator visits the summer before he goes east for college.