Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Where Lilacs Still Bloom

German immigrant and farm wife Hulda Klager possesses only an eighth-grade education—and a burning desire to create something beautiful. What begins as a hobby to create an easy-peeling apple for her pies becomes Hulda’s driving purpose: a time-consuming interest in plant hybridization that puts her at odds with family and community, as she challenges the early twentieth-century expectations for a simple housewife.  
Through the years, seasonal floods continually threaten to erase her Woodland, Washington garden and a series of family tragedies cause even Hulda to question her focus. In a time of practicality, can one person’s simple gifts of beauty make a difference?  
Based on the life of Hulda Klager, Where Lilacs Still Bloom is a story of triumph over an impossible dream and the power of a generous heart. (publisher blurb)

Many years ago, my sister, Teri, and I created our own book club.  The details have changed off and on, but the general idea is that we take turns selecting a book to read each month and creating an activity based on the book.  September was Teri's pick, and she selected Where Lilacs Still Bloom by Jane Kirkpatrick. 

This is a lovely story that wasn't so much about plot as about questions.  Like most of us, Hulda's life did not play out like a perfectly paced thriller or romance novel, and to add those elements would have distracted from the real story of her life work.  Consequently, this book is one to make you ponder and question.  

One of the questions I asked several times was "If the river is going to wipe out your garden every few years, why don't you move your garden farther from the river?"  I never got an answer to that one.  But part of our book club assignment was to write a blog post based on one of the discussion questions at the end of the book and I do feel that I have an answer for this one.  

Do you agree with Hulda when she tells her sister, "Beauty matters...It does. God gave us flowers for a reason.  I think so we'd pay attention to the details of creation and remember to trust Him in all things big or little, no matter what the challenge.  Flowers remind us to put away fear, to stop our rushing and running and worrying about this and that, and for a moment have a piece of paradise right here on earth."

I settled on this discussion topic because it immediately brought to mind two ideas that I firmly believe.  First, we are created in God's image, so we all have an innate desire to create - to be creative.  Some of us sew or knit or bake. Some express their creativity in a spreadsheet with formulas and calculations. Some write, some garden, some sing.  Some build houses, some repair cars, and some completely deny that they have any creative tendencies.  But they just aren't looking.  

My second thought was a resounding, "YES, beauty matters!"  If you've watched my evolution since moving to Green Acres (our two-acre patch of Eden), you've seen my awakening - for lack of a better word - to the beauty of nature.  God's creation is full of detail - the variety of colors, shapes and sizes in a flower bed, the intricate "wood grain" in a buckeye, the changing colors of Autumn leaves.  None of these details are really necessary to sustain life.  He could have made a much simpler world - one type of tree to produce oxygen, one variety of animal or grain to eat, one climate, one landscape.  But He didn't.  He made an intricate world, full of variety and detail, yet all connected.  Surely the reason for this intricacy is to show us that He cares about our details as well.  To remind us "to trust Him in all things big or little" and to sometimes take the focus off the details that have us running and worrying, slow us down and remind us of all that is good in the world when all we can see is the bad.

Lilacs have always been one of my favorite flowers. We have them spread around Green Acres, but they have been untended for many years and are out of control. I appreciated the educational side of this story that taught me the proper method for pruning overgrown lilacs.  I also appreciated the historical aspect. I found it interesting that during the Great Depression the government instituted programs to encourage the arts because they (whoever "they" were) knew that, especially during such dark times, people needed to find beauty. What a contrast to current school budget "depressions" that are being solved by cutting the arts.  But mostly, I enjoyed Mrs. Klager's dedication and inspiration to create and share beauty.

To check Teri's homework, check out her post on Where Lilacs Still Bloom.


  1. I just think it is so neat how you and your sister set up your book club like this. I do have to agree with you, beauty matters, but of course outward appearances should never take precedence over the condition of our heart :)


  2. Your description of this book appeals to me so much.