Among the trees a modest marker and bronze plaque announces these trees as a gift from Captain John Smith. I silently thank Captain Smith for this thoughtful gift.
The Hawthorns’ blooms are always among the first to appear, right along with the daffodils and forsythia. Their stark grey trunks don heady bouquets of dazzling pink and white blossoms that glow in the morning light. Their brilliant bouquets exude a halo of fragrance, fresh and slightly sweet. I catch their aroma from around the corner, before I see the rosy petals against the Academy’s white, brick wall.
The awakening of the English Hawthorn has been an event I looked forward to each spring.
But, these six, trees were more than just pretty faces. Their identities, like our own, were complex and intriguing.
In Middle English a haw is a hedge. Such sturdy trees that grew slowly and remained of middling height were helpful living-fences. Add to their sturdy compactness the thorns that pepper their branches and you have an ideal border hedge. Thus, the English haw-thorn tree.
The English Hawthorn trees are ubiquitous, so much so that it’s uncertain which came first, the tree or the term. These thorny trees serve throughout the English countryside to discourage roaming horses and sheep from wandering too far afield.
The Hawthorns of Annapolis had no shepherding duties. My six friends provided slight shade for pedestrians, and few birds bothered to seek perches among the thorns. The summer Hawthorns were rather sad fellows, with scruffy, grey bark and small, serrated, olive-green leaves.
Then, in mid-August, the Hawthorns‘ foliage would begin to brown and curl, and soon the sidewalk was strewn with dead leaves.
I saw their early disrobing as a harbinger of the fall to come. Not for the Hawthorns the elegant golds and ruby reds of their cousins the maples and oaks. I had to remind myself that these sad trees would be the very first to come back to life in the spring – with the showiest and most delicious display.
That was my comfort. These sturdy, ordinary companions of my morning walks retired early to their winter garb, but early awoke with exceptional glory.
What made these trees particular favorites of mine was that for most of the year they were nondescript, calling no attention to themselves. But once a year, in the spring, they immodestly paraded their sensual beauty for all to enjoy, enfolding passers-by in their heady color and fragrance.
Last September these six companions of my mornings were felled. It seems the early dropping of their leaves was a symptom of a disease common to the Hawthorn.
So, March has come and gone, and now I walk past the newly planted, American dogwoods. And I find myself mourning my English friends – their fragrance and beauty lost from the early spring mornings but vivid in my memory.