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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

season of the black locust - "the poverty tree"

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In a morning walk to the meadow, feet soaked with dew, I was surprised to find trees in flower that I hadn't seen closely yet in our five previous springs at the farm. Don't ask me how that is possible, but it's true. It wasn't that the dozen or so trees hadn't blossomed, because I had smelled their eye-closing fragrance. But I had not really noticed the blossoms closely or even remembered the trees' name.

I didn't know this is the season of the black locust.

See how like pea blossoms they are, falling in racemes. In fact black locust trees are in the Faboideae subfamily of the pea family Fabaceae. At times these blossoms are swarmed by bees; black locust is one of the prime sources of honey in the U.S.

We could call them bees' peas. Wish I'd caught a bee in the frame.





It's named black locust because of its dark bark, which rises in deep furrows. You know how Abe Lincoln famously chopped wood? Well it was black locust logs he chopped - probably for fence posts and the famous log cabin, because it's very sturdy wood. The locust part was named mistakenly for what sustained St. John the Baptist in the wilderness - but this tree is native to North America. The correct tree of "honey and locust" fame is the locust tree of Spain - Ceratonia siliqua (carob tree).





Because the tree grows where nothing else will (it has nitrogen-fixing bacteria in its root system), poet Gerald Stern said:

My identity with that tree has something to do with Judasism and with persecution. The tree is short-lived--forty years maybe--it's asymmetrical, considered ugly, worthless. Farmers value it only as a source of fence posts. People, when they buy land, chop them down to replace them with shade trees--I love that tree, I identify with it; it's my poverty tree. I sometimes see the concentration camp number on the forearm, or forelimb.

x x x x - from Making the Light Come, by Jane Somerville


See how the black branches stand out when the white blossoms are spread full. It sure isn't ugly if you ask me.



You're right to exclaim: How did you miss that!



Robinia pseudoacacia information gathered at wiki.

Here is a sweet poem by Gerald Stern in his choppy, talky style:

The Preacher [As if the one tree you love]

As if the one tree you love so well and hardly
can embrace it is so huge so that with-
out it there might be a hole in the universe
explains how the killing of any one thing can
likewise make a hole except that without
its existence there was neither a hole nor not a hole
I said to my friend Peter and after he left
I walked to the tree again and put my arms
around the trunk or almost did for I was
embracing it preparatory should I say
to its dying for it was one of the many
dying trees along my river mainly
sycamore and locust—

Finish reading the long-ish poem here . . .

37 comments:

dutchbaby said...

Lovely, lovely! You were not ready to notice the tree yet, but now look at how you rewarded him with this homage. Love how you framed the blossoms!

Peter said...

I admire the way you can make a fantastic post out of "just some flowers"! Your post contains such a lot - and you don't have to be a botanist to appreciate it!

(Happy - but not surpirsed - that you knew Carl Larsson!)

JC said...

Really great photos ... and of trees ...

~~~ I'm having a Pay It Forward on my blog, stop by if you're interested ~~~

*jean* said...

how cool is that! it's a legume??? we need more of those....i wonder if they grow here in MN....

i love visiting your blog....thanks for teaching me something new!!!

jean

Oliag said...

If I have those fabulous trees in my neck of the woods then I have missed them too...love the Gerald Stern quote...and that wonderful photo of the blades of grass!

ds said...

Oh,my. The grass, that tree, that poem (!yes, I read the whole thing, geek that I am. Wow.), those blossoms. You "missed" nothing. Especially like the final black & white shot. Sets the tone, somehow. Thank you for this; will be thinking of it all day.

Barry said...

It certainly looks like a beautiful tree to me. Just because a tree doesn't have a human utility, that doesn't detract from its value--at least in my books. No tree exists for me any more than I exist for any tree.

Sherry said...

I have a soft place in my heart for the black locust, since the dairy farm on which I grew up was called Twin Locust Farm, and there were conjoined locust trees in front of the barn. I loved the creamy white blossoms with their sweet scent. People kept advising my father to cut down the trees, that they were "messy" and had wood too soft to withstand storms. He never did, and they stand still. Thanks for your post about these familiar trees that always signal the start of summer for me.

Christina said...

sigh, you took your time noticing the tree, in that way. you wanted to wait for the perfect time to teach me something i didn't know. wink. ahh... such beauty with lovely poetry.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I love the bark. Like an Oz tree.

photowannabe said...

What a gorgeous tree and thanks for the interesting information about it. I really learned some new things today.

shicat said...

Hi Ruth, What a beautiful tree. Your photo of the blossom is terrific.We had a Locust tree in front of our home,it wasn't a black locust, no flowers. I can believe you missed the tree,you are surrounded by nature,you lucky girl. Honey yum, maybe you could start a new hobby, bee keeper?
You could wear that cool bee suit and wave smoke around?

Which brings me to the book The Secret Life of Bees, such a sweet book, have you read it? I wanted to live with the sisters.

Loving this weather, my classroom is nice and cool not 200 degrees like it was last year.

Susan said...

A lovely tutorial, Ruthie, about a beautiful tree! Our farmer friend around the road lets a friend of his keep bees on his land. He told David that his friend had lost about half of his bees because all the blooming plants were so much later this year with the late winter and unseasonably cold spring. He said he was never so glad to see the locusts start blooming. After reading this and knowing that, I will never look at a locust the same way again.

RD said...

So glad I stopped by today! On my walk two days ago I came across this tree with white clusters of flowers spilling off it. I didn't know what it was, but took lots of pictures. I now know! Thanks! Great post.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Dutchbaby. The light was almost as neon as the woman's face in your decorator's showcase.

Ruth said...

Peter, thank you, and look who's talking! You provide such a lot of information in your Paris posts, it's astonishing.

Ruth said...

Thank you, JC.

Ruth said...

Jean, ha! I hadn't thought of it as a legume, funny.

Glad you like learning something new - me too.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Oliag.

Maybe you'll see them now.

Ruth said...

Thank you for that, DS.

Ruth said...

Barry, "No tree exists for me any more than I exist for any tree" - very well said.

Ruth said...

Sherry, well what do you know. Was this in Wisconsin?

The locust tree in the photo here - of the close-up of bark - is a conjoined twin too!

Ruth said...

Christina, so sweet you are.

Ruth said...

Yes, Pamela.

Ruth said...

Good, Sue, I'm glad for that.

Ruth said...

Cathy, I have not read The Secret Life of Bees, although I've heard it recommended from many directions.

Susie tells us the cool weather has delayed the honey in her part of the country, but I agree, the cool spring has been wonderful. I asked for slow spring, and I got it. I never like moving into hot summer before June.

Bee keeper? My FIL was one way back. It does seem a romantic hobby. Hmmm.

Ruth said...

Susie, well that is so cool! I mean literally, and figuratively too. I'm sorry for the bee farmer though - first the colony collapse disorder, now a cold spring. Yikes.

Ruth said...

RD, that's good timing, we might call it synchronicity.

Be one with the Fro said...

beautiful! bees' peas...LOVE it! i'll be potting flowers tomorrow. i am really excited about it.

Bob Johnson said...

Just beautiful stuff Ruth, love the images, and prose, the tree and Moon is too cool, is that infrared?

Ruth said...

Cool, Tiffany. The best part for me is the design/colors together. Everything comes alive!

I'll check out the flowers when you post photos too.

Ruth said...

No, Bob, not infrared - it's picnik.com using the holga effect. I'm working up to a good moon shot - one of these days.

shicat said...

Hi Ruth, o.k. this isn't a comment on your small blog,but ,oh my gosh ,that photo looks like a vintage painting.BEAUTUFUL

Moi said...

we have a street here next to where i live called Locust street......now I am wondering if the trees on the street are locust trees....I am gonna try and find it out !!!! :)

and we were in MI for the memorial day weekend...... i went scouting for lighthouses on lake michigan on the western shore of the mitten and I had to exclaim with delight when i saw the road leading to HART as we hit the silver lakes area........i couldn't help but narrate stories from your and Ginnie's blogs to my husband ....:)

Ruth said...

Thank you, Cathy!

Ruth said...

Moi, it's so nice to see you!

Could be honey locust too, I don't know which is more prevalent in Illinois.

Yes! We have a root beer bottle on top of the kitchen cupboard at our family cottage from Hart, Michigan! :D It has nothing to do with our family, but we like it all the same. How fun that you remember the stories Ginnie and I have told in our blogs.

California Girl said...

I like the framed close up of the branch. It's lovely. Wonderful quote by Gerald Stern (or Jane Somerville, wasn't sure).

How are your beautiful gorgeous chickens?