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UNDER THE DOGWOOD TREE
April 20, 2004
 
What's amazing about this is that it's this warm and there are no bugs, Corinna said.

Yup, I said. They're not alive yet.

And they're not. They're still pupas, or whatever bugs are before they're bugs. Larvae? Something.

We were at the picnic table under the dogwood, our first outdoor supper of the year. All summer long and into the fall, we eat inside only when it rains. The rest of the time, we're under the dogwood, a tree whose beauty spans all four seasons: now, when its cross-shaped blossoms are about to bloom, to hang in the air in snowy drifts. The blossoms of the dogwood are shaped like a cross. The tips of them are touched with red. That's the blood of Christ, my grandmother told me many years ago. And see the circle of little round things in the center? That's the crown of thorns.

In a few weeks, its green leaves make a tent under which you can sit in a rainstorm and not really get wet. In the fall, they turn fiery red. And then, in the winter, its bare arms show black against the grey sky.

Dinner time: time to eat and talk. Time to solve things, but not really hideous things -- those things await another time. But at dinner time, you can talk about your day a little. Talk a little about what troubles you. Or, if you can't bear to do this yet, just sit and hear the other people talking, the other people reporting in from their lives, sit and remember that there is such a thing as normal life and that your family is here, all around you, no matter what happens. No matter how annoying they are, how bereft of understanding. They're here. That much you can say, and it's more comforting than you expected it to be when you sat down.

And later? When you've moved far away? When the house has passed into other hands? When someone with no soul chops down the dogwood tree so he can build a deck where it stood? When nobody but you and your sister are left to remember the meals under the little tree, to trace the initials you carved in its bark, to look at the crook in the branches where you used to sit, and wonder that it used to seem so high?

Carry it with you. Those who love you now will always love you, for love stains, and you can never get it out, no matter how hard you scrub. The grandparents who sat with you and only partly understood what you were saying loved you as they loved their own lives, and would have given those worn lives in exchange for yours in a heartbeat.

Whenever you see a dogwood, remember.

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To see a dogwood blossom up close, go to http://www.pbase.com/image/27423817
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