Dogwood Memories

Dogwoods are peaking near our house in Yosemite West. Picture taken from our deck.

Dogwood trees have a particular niche of its own in the passing of seasons. In the spring, their large white blossoms (actually sepals) decorate the forests and mark the arrival of spring. Photographers of all levels focus their lenses on them – against a backdrop of dark red cedar bark, the deep grey blue of the Merced River or back-lit against the brilliance of the sky. They are stand-alone beautiful, and I love them for that, but I also love them because they’re now associated with people and memories that are fun to revisit as well.

How can you tell a tree is a dogwood?

By its Bark. (Get it?)

My friend and co-worker at Yosemite Mountaineering School, Doug K., used to love that joke. Probably still does though I’ve only seen him once since he moved to VT about 10 years ago. In the spring, the dogwoods start to bloom and I often find myself thinking of Doug’s joke, and also of the home-made card he sent me when I was in the hospital, and how in the summer he’d bike out to the river for his lunch hour, and in the winter he’d put on his skis and make a quick lap out to Dewey Point.

Half Dome and pink dogwood blossoms
The classic pink dogwood and Half Dome picture taken from Dan and Suzanne’s house.

The native dogwoods in Yosemite have white flowers, but there is a pink dogwood tree next to a house on Ahwahnee Row. The photo taken from under its branches looking out toward Half Dome is a Yosemite classic. Though they didn’t plant it, I’ve come to think of it as Dan and Suzanne’s tree, and a springtime visit to the pink dogwood reminds me of their thoughtful kindness, and generosity. A whole raft of stories flood my mind when I see that tree in bloom, from “little things” they would do, like remembering my birthday, to big things like being one of the finest examples of leadership I’ve ever come across. Watching Dan swooping in to the office on the bike he rode to work, or stooping to pick up some errant bit of trash on the way to a business meeting because when he said he was a steward of the park, he meant it, or doing the tyrolean on Lost Arrow Spire or hiking out of May Lake with his ice skates that one strange year when such things were easy. Suzanne’s warm smile while she was out walking the dogs, or her laughter at the book club meetings. They’ve moved on and someone else lives in that house now, but the tree will always remind me of them.

The last two spring seasons I went specifically to visit and photograph that tree with a newer friend, Melissa B. I suppose she’s now going to get wrapped up in the memories associated with dogwoods in general and that tree in particular. The memories keep building.

Dan used to say that winter wasn’t over until the snow fell on the dogwoods, and sure enough there is snow in the Yosemite forecast for Tuesday or Wednesday at our house in Yosemite West where the dogwoods have just started to bloom in the last few weeks. After our extended drought, I promised myself that I would be grateful for every drop of moisture that came our way this year, and I am. I’m also grateful for the change of seasons and the promise of sunny summer days after the snow falls on the dogwoods, and all the memories that come with that change of season.