Sylt Roses

The car radio broke on Sylt, which is why we listened to just two cassette tapes as we drove up and down this slender sliver of land in the cold Atlantic ocean.

T and I barely made our way to this German island in the North Sea, having almost missed the ferry from Denmark, because of someone’s (not mine) notorious tendency to be tardy.

We raced from Hamburg to Denmark, propelled as much by adrenaline as pistons in T’s old forest green VW Golf.  With minutes to spare before our sailing time, we trundled into the belly of the ferry. Leaving the car, we made our way through the gaggle of vacationers to the passenger deck. There, in the late summer breeze, we watched the August sun trace our wake southwest.

We docked and headed off the ferry and onto a magical slip of an island. Leaving the touristy ferry dock, we meandered down single lane roads, passing thatch-roof houses, green pastures and the always-present border of sand and sea. The rush and scramble of Hamburg seemed far away, indeed.

A few kilometers down the road, the car radio decided this was as good a time as any to go AWOL, and promptly deserted us. Armed with only two cassettes, we were reduced to an aural diet of Peter Gabriel’s So album and The Gipsy Kings. We alternated between wailing along with the soulful poetry of Peter Gabriel and high-energy-bopping-along to the rapid fire guitars of the Gipsy Kings.

Repetitive motion. Is it any wonder that those two albums are forever imprinted in my mind as the Music of Sylt?

As we rounded a bend along the road, T pulled up and parked. “This is my favorite spot on the island.” he told me.

He turned to watch my reaction, as I stared in sheer wonder at a bank of Sylt roses (rosa rugosa) shrubs in full bloom. Sporting only five petals each, but carrying an attitude of regal tea roses, these blooms tumbled over each other in a mad dash to drink in as much of the intense summer sun as possible before the winter cold came calling. Bumble bees flitted from from flower to flower, like tiny manic orchestra conductors.

“Play, play play!” they exhorted. Their sonorous buzzing was the perfect backdrop to the high soprano notes of the fushia pink petals.

Shasta daisies rounded out the tableau, with cornflower blue bachelor buttons and red poppies acting as the chorus. These humble garden blossoms happily filled in the harmony, doo wopping their songs, giving the entire floral act a little jazz flourish.

I got out of the car, and walked over to inhale the heady raspberry fragrance of the roses. It was overwhelming and emotional, a purely sensual experience. If you could smell joy, it would be this. Sweet, high and intense, with earthy notes of sand, salt breeze and green summer grass to temper it.

The warm sun on my back, the cool whisper of sea air across my arms, and my eyes and nose filled with this heavenly bouquet; it was a moment of sheer bliss. I looked at T, who smiled back at me, and said “I knew you would like this.”

We stood there for a few more minutes, gathering up and twisting threads of this beauty into a ribbon.

I pull this ribbon out on cold days, grey days, days when I need to remember how it felt to have the sun warm on my back, the sea breeze playing on my skin and the smell of roses in my nose. It’s old and worn now, but still treasured.

We reluctantly clambered back into the car, hit play and let Peter sing to us about red rain, not giving up and streets of mercy.

I want to go back to Sylt, and find that floral hedge. I do. I want to drive in an old green VW Golf, with no radio and just two cassettes to play. I want to capture that pristine moment. I want to be young again.

I won’t, of course. Sylt has changed. I am no longer the same person. Thirty years have gone by. Life moves on. Even if I go back, nothing will be the same. It’s perfect that way.





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