"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
Crabapple Trees, a Bit of History, and Two Poems

Crabapple Trees, a Bit of History, and Two Poems

From “The Cincinnatus of the West: George Washington’s American Garden at Mount Vernon” in Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf:

“By the summer of 1776, Manhattan had been transformed into an armed camp. American soldiers drilled in the wide tree-lined streets and troops took over the elegant brick mansions normally occupied by the New York elite. Huge wooden barricades were erected where fashionable women had promenaded only weeks earlier, and forts were built around the tiny hamlet of Brooklyn to defend the city. New York faced 32,000 British troops — more than one and a half times the city’s entire peacetime population and the largest enemy fleet ever to reach American shores….

“[As] the British troops were preparing their ferocious onslaught, Washington brushed aside his generals and his military maps, sat in the flicker of candlelight with his quill and wrote a long letter to his estate manager and cousin Lund Washington at Mount Vernon, his plantation in Virginia. As the city braced itself, Washington pondered the voluptuous blossom of rhododendron, the sculptural flowers of mountain laurel and the perfect pink of crab apple. These ‘clever kind[s] of Trees (especially flowering ones),’ he instructed, should be planted in two groves by either side of his house….”

From “The Crabapple in Flower” in Zero Meridian: Poems by Deborah Warren:

The crabapple tore through the house one week in April,
boughs in armloads — room after room — in vases,
jars from the cupboards, jugs from the cellar, urns….

The long sprays dazzled us,
but their beauty pierced us, too, with a desire
to know them, to possess them, in some way
five pale senses could never satisfy.

From “Crabapple Blossoms” in Poems of Inspiration and Courage by Grace Noll Crowell:

This morning as I climbed a golden hill
I came upon a slim crabapple tree:
A pink-white cloud of glory… I stood still —
For like a runner, breath was gone from me….


The crabapple tree I photographed for this post is located just inside the main entrance gate to Oakland Cemetery, in a section called “The Original Six Acres” — because it was just that, the original six-acre plot that established the cemetery in 1849, a size it remained at until 1867 when it was expanded to 48 acres.

Imagine my surprise to discover that despite having visited the cemetery countless times over the past few years, I had no photographs of the gate itself. But you can see one at Oakland Cemetery’s history page, scrolling down to “1896” when the gate was constructed. There’s also a fun photograph of the gate from the HBO series Watchmen — where it was featured in a flyover for a funeral scene. You can see that photograph at the Oakland in Film page. Scroll down to “Watchmen 2019” — where the iconic gate is shown, with the name of the cemetery changed to “Tartarus Acres” for the series. I remember watching that series, not knowing that it was partially filmed in Atlanta — but instantly knew it was when I saw the gate in this scene.

Now picture yourself walking through the gate and immediately looking to your right in early March of any year — and there you will find this crabapple tree, sporting some of the first seasonal color among the garden’s bushes and trees.

I wonder if it’s been growing there since 1849….

Thanks for taking a look!

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