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Erik Hare

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Member Since: Mar, 2007

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Blogs by Erik Hare

Catalpa
6/26/2007 8:43:20 PM
Stories are all around us. There is a reason behind how things are and why they were arranged the way they were. Sometimes, the stories are alive even as they stand in silence.

My hometown of Saint Paul has many relics of the people who first ventured west to pioneer the end of the Mississippi. Their names live on in the streets around us and in the headstones at Oakland Cemetery. Their values are present in the homes we live in, antebellum Greek Revival structures that call us to believe in Democracy, much like the Greek Revival towns like Utica that they came from.

The most impressive of these stories that surround is the Catalpa tree, Catalpa speciosa. It is an odd tree, with broad leaves and beans that hang off of it all year long. It is not a pretty tree by any stretch, and its twisted branches often fall off in the faintest breeze. For one week a year, however, it is covered in delicate white flowers with the shape and scent of orchids. Around the Summer Solstice a snow of them falling provides a fragrant echo of Winter. Catalpas have their own sense of time.

You will find large patches of Catalpas in only two places in Saint Paul. One is my neighborhood, Irvine Park, which was settled by the pioneers. Since the Catalpa is not native to Minnesota, they were clearly brought here by the first settlers as one more reminder of New York. No one likes this dirty tree without such a sentiment, except for those of us who have learned to live for that week of glory.

For all these reasons, many of us in the neighborhood have come to regard the Catalpa as a sacred tree. They place us on the map, but they also place us in time. They are the last living link back to the pioneers who arrived by steamboat some 150 years ago.

Recently, my daughter found another stand of Catalpas. We walked over to the middle of Como Park so that she could show us, and there they were. From their size and scraggly appearance they seemed to be 100 years old, which is about as old as the park. That means they were planted at the time the land was tamed with a light hand.

As non-native trees dating to the time of human activity, they tell a story. Someone put them there on purpose. Someone had a reason. Someone had a story to tell, a parent to remember, a connection they wanted to keep. This small stand Catalpas is a testimony to the people who lived before us, a story that lives on silently at the corner of our lives.

Perhaps what we see is enough of a story if we spend some time with them. After all, a good story is one with a purpose, a central theme that the details deliver into the listenerís heart and mind. Here, in this stand of Catalpas, there is only the theme. They were here. The details silently fall like snow every Summer Solstice, heard by no one. But they speak loudly enough. The story is still told.


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More Blogs by Erik Hare
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