Saturday, June 1, 2013

Plants as historical artifacts

When I was at the American school a few years back, Harriet Blitzer gave us a fascinating talk about olive trees and how their shape and growth patterns reveal some fascinating data about their life history and the historical circumstances of the trees' immediate surroundings. Much as the matrix of an ancient person's bones tell us whether they struggled as a laborer or suffered with diseases, the shape of the branches, the thickness of the growth, and the form of the trunk explain the presence or absence of human activity, erosion, natural competition, and so on. Plants serve as historical records, evidence of events and site formation.

This bush is likewise a historical artifact, although in its case it is an heirloom of sorts. It's a cherry hedge and sits outside my window at my aunt and uncle's house. But what you might not recognize at first glance is the fact that this little bush is actually 50 years old. According to the oral history shared by Joanne Kelly (née Rask), this bush was planted by her mother, Myrtle Rask (née Sirl), my grandmother. When the family moved to the house in the 1950s, she established a garden at its south edge. A long cherry hedge, situated in a L-shape, served as a fence for Myrtle's garden.

 The back of the house in the 1950s. Note the hedge on the left side, cordoning off an area for the garden.

Now the garden is long gone, but a little bit of the hedge still remains.

At OSU, there is a historic plane tree near my old building with a sign proudly proclaiming that it stood, a young teenage plane tree, when the US Constitution was being signed. Our bush was proudly standing when my dad joined the Boy Scouts and when he went on to Vietnam, when my cousins took apart and rebuilt their first engine, when my aunt finally retired from teaching. Who needs a constitution tree, right?

May 1961: (Uncle) Tim Rask works in the garden, surrounded by the cherry hedge.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is even older. The Cherry hedge was here when we moved to Florida, so who knows. Before my mother's garden it was probably an earlier garden. The Cherry hedge offered shade and protection from the salt wind. And come to think of it, there was a similar one next door in the big 2 story house yard. Both of these houses were connected in lore. Supposedly, rumrunners brought in supplies and stored the liquor below the house. A wealthy guy lived there and the captain lived in our house.