Here she is again, on about trees.
I do not understand many of the decisions previous owners of this house made, but the one to plant a flowering dogwood tree was a good one. This one isn’t squat and perfectly shaped like a lot of the ornamental ones I see out and about. I imagine she was not pruned to fit a shape; at the very base, she forks into twin trunks and she is lovely in her wildness.
I noticed this spring that the blooms stayed on much longer than previous years. Typically, one of April’s heavy rains pounds them away before I’ve barely noticed their arrival. I thought it must have been a little gift of beauty to get me through lockdown. Like many Christians who grew up around folksy people, I have heard the Easter legend pertaining to the dogwood, but I know too, as that article states, “Alas, the legend of the dogwood most likely originated in the United States in the 20th century. They are not native to the Middle East, nor would they have been found growing there in Jesus’ time. Nevertheless, the legend persists, and many Christians revere the beloved dogwood as it continues to remind them of Jesus’ love and sacrifice.” More on that in a bit.
Because I’ve taken up nature journaling, I went out and sketched and painted the dogwood a few times through the summer, as well, each time amazed at how many more limbs and branches there were. Once you try to draw a tree, you realize even more how complex they get. I watched songbirds and hummingbirds take refuge after they ate from one neighbor’s feeder and before moving to the next. I watched squirrels leap from the power line onto one of the narrow branches and shake the whole tree as they made their feeding journeys too from oak to oak in our neighborhood.
But here in the fall, I fall more in love. Her bright red leaves are the first to turn and when its berries are in, it feeds goldfinches, bluebirds, mockingbirds, robins, and sparrows. The goldfinches spiral and dart down through the limbs like daredevils; I watched the sparrows dip their heads delicately over the ends of the branches and pluck at the little red fruit. Last week, I lost count at 25 when I tried to count all the birds on it.
Legends and folktales are nice; I appreciate them. But, it’s irritating to me too that we make up stories to sanctify things that are already so clearly holy. I’ve only half paid attention to one tree in my back yard, one tiny place in creation, and yet been reminded how God has woven together everything to work toward glory; to work toward life. It’s reminded me to think of such things when I thank God for my food — Lord, I remember all the hands who have labored over these ingredients. Bless them. Lord, I remember all the living creatures and all the elements of earth that have done their calling so that I may be nourished. Lord, may they be blessed and counted among your servants. I remember them. Thank you for this world you’ve built, and forgive me when I forget how we are all connected. What faith I lose when I watch people, I regain when I remember this web of creation.
The songbirds have depleted my dogwood’s berries now, and today’s winds have taken most of its remaining leaves. She will stand bare until late February or early March, if all goes well. Oh, sleep well, my dear. You’ve served so well.