It is not a stately tree, and for much of the year there is nothing special to recommend it. Its black bark and drooping brown seed pods are the very pictures of winter drear. In the summer, its small form and heart-shaped leaves blend in with a host of other unremarkable shrubs and trees at the edges of the fields and forest. By fall, you would hardly know it existed under the vivid displays of the scarlet-gold maples and red oaks.
But come springtime, the redbud beats everything. Years ago, when I was a serious student of geology, I took a field trip to Kentucky to inspect some rocks. I remember nothing about those rocks. What I do recall, a quarter-century later, is standing spellbound in a woods resplendent with redbud in full, iridescent bloom. Even the air seemed to take on a captivating color - not red, certainly, nor pink, nor lavender, but a hue all its own that deserves a separate place in the Roy G. Biv rainbow. I suspect the R and B are really there for redbud.
I returned to Kentucky on another geological excursion about 15 years ago, again at the time of year when the redbud blooms. Decked in its delicate lace, the hills, woods, and small farms seemed otherworldly. At dusk, when the low, slanting light pierced to the very heart of things, the blossoming trees became most beautiful of all. Again, I've forgotten anything I might have learned about the local rock formations I'd gone to see.
MY geological career thus thwarted, I eventually turned to dairy farming, fortunately still in redbud country. Our own Indiana farm is well-endowed with the trees whose blooming in April can be depended upon to lift away any residual wintry mood. Several young redbuds grow along the path leading down to the barn, delicately and deftly diverting our attention from the dark mire of the cowlot below.
After a windstorm, I gather broken branches and fill vases. There is no scent to redbud, but that's just as well. If the blossoms were as stimulating to the nose as to the eye, it would be too much to absorb all at once.
After the wind, the redbud comes into the milking parlor, too. The cows step into their stanchions all bedecked. The blossoms fleck their hips, backs, and heads, and small petals cling moistly to their noses, jewel-like. In this elfin finery, the animals look very '90s-ish and seem less ponderous, by a whit, than they are.
As March passes, I find myself thinking of the morels due to pop up fat and delicious in the pasture; of the first forest trilliums, and of longer days and warmer winds. Soon, the first hint of redbud will set fire to all these expectations. As the indescribable color creeps mist- like up the hillsides and shimmers along the forest's edge, we finally and fully shut the door on winter.
The opening blooms begin to fill our screened windows, our vases, and to command our view in almost any direction. The very manure looks beautiful, dark and fertile beneath the annual extravagance. Not a bad showing for a tree that keeps so much to itself, so modestly, for so much of the year.