Serendipitously, I came across an old notebook with a piece extolling the virtues of my own flowering crabapple which stood next to our century and a half old post and beam house in a small canal village. I wrote the passage as we were leaving that place, so I was feeling sentimental about the old tree, and giving thanks for the abundance it had given us during our time there.
I appreciated how every inch of it was covered in fluttering pink blossoms, heady with the scent of cinnamon and cloves. The blossom was followed by vast numbers of small, utterly round fruit, every year without fail; utterly round, cherry red, and hard as rocks. With the coming of frost, the fruit turned cinnabar orange and softened, becoming a perfect winter food for birds. The cedar waxwing host arrived once every winter for a feast. Their red and yellow bars and russet tails accorde perfectly with the fruit, for an effect that was deliciously ornamental. One year a flock of passing evening grosbeaks stripped the whole tree in a matter of minutes, but most of the time, the fruit disappeared gradually, leaving enough for the returning starlings of spring to finish off.
This little tree, only about fifteen feet at the most, was strong enough to bear my adult weight when I clambered through it stringing Christmas lights every year. It was the tree which taught the kids how to climb. The closely spaced branches meant that Tarzans-in-training had nothing to fear. The supreme test of strength for the tree came during the ice storm of 1996. After five days and nights of ice raining from the sky, the tree became a visual expression of the definition of courage as grace under pressure. The bole of the trunk, each cluster of brillian red fruit, and each and every branch and twig, was coated in a layer of crystalline ice a full inch thick. When the rain stopped and the sun came out, little birds sat in the frozen branches, and the tree glistened like the most fantastic crystal chandelier imaginable. The light passing through the ice made it almost painful to look at.
All around us was chaos and destruction. The crown of every maple in the village was split. Driving to town was upsetting. It looked like a war zone, and would continue to do so for years to come. But our dear crabapple was complete; not one broken branch was to be found. I suspect it was because of the bountiful crop it bore each year. The branches were used to carrying a heavy load, and could bend resiliently under the extra weight, rather than snapping. Sweet are the uses of adversity!