Dogwood Days

There was a dogwood tree in the front yard of the house I used to live in, in South Carolina. Dogwood trees are especially good for climbing because they are gnarled, bent, and usually not that tall. I first climbed this one when I was seven and my five-year old neighbor said she could climb it. And there began a great friendship with that tree.

In the fall, it dropped pretty red leaves on the yard that could be raked into piles to jump and roll in, or into the outlines of rooms for us to play house in. In spring, its white flowers were everything from snow to brides' bouquets in our games. In summer, it was shade from the hot South Carolina sun. And all year round it was great place to sit. Two or three people discussing how to fill up the rest of the day, or reassuring themselves that gravity still worked by dropping twigs and seeds, or using branches as rocking horses or balance beams. Or just one person curled up in the junction of two big branches, with a book to read or just watching the neighborhood from on high and thinking.

The dogwood tree took all the abuse quietly, both from us kids playing and from the grownups who were only concerned with pruning the branches growing too low over the driveway. It was a friend of the family, because we loved being around it and our parents liked knowing we were within a safe distance of home.

There's a legend about dogwood trees: that at one time the trees were always straight and tall, until the wood of Christ's cross was taken from a dogwood. Distraught at having to serve such a purpose, the tree asked Christ to ensure that nothing like that could ever happen again. So after that all dogwood trees were twisted, split, and shorter than other trees, and their flowers are four equal white petals in the shape of a cross. I don't really believe the legend; I don't really think trees have consciousness, and I'm not even sure if dogwoods grow in the Middle East. But I like the idea that the someone who made up the story recognized a tree that serves a purpose to humans, not in practical utility, but as an inanimate friend, and that that person paid a tribute to it in that sweet enduring legend.

We moved away when I was 13, down to Florida, and I protested when I found out that our new house had only an unclimbable palm tree in its front yard. My mother just told me I was getting too old for climbing trees. I suppose she might have been right, because actually I haven't climbed a tree since then, though that might be due to the lack of appropriate ones in urban Florida. But I missed my old friend and still do. I hope whoever moved into our old house had kids who would appreciate my dogwood. After all it gave us, it deserves to be loved.

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