Tulip Trees

Growing up in Los Angeles, I never felt attuned to the seasons. I was vaguely aware that it rained more in January and that the jacarandas would bloom in March, but generally time flowed from one day into the next without any sense of seasonal shifts. Even in the coldest months, residents of southern California are able to enjoy the outdoors without recourse to heavy coats, and most trees retain their leaves throughout the year. Although those of us who are soldiering through a cold, dark winter might imagine that life in such temperate weather conditions sounds ideal, it actually made for a very strange existence. The lack of seasons means that I don’t have a sense of relative time for many of my early memories. The changing shape of a landscape can create a solid foundation to ground events within a specific year. When recalling a conversation, we remember if we were wearing hats and gloves or shorts, we can visualize the bare tree limbs or their lush foliage. And by so doing, we retain a sense of continuity. We can sort our memories by placing them within the seasons.

Fortunately, I was eventually able to enjoy the beauty of fall colors, the intensity of the lake wind during a Chicago winter, and the glories of the spring songbird migration. This yearly cycle has marked my adult life and serves as the frame onto which various events have been affixed. March marks my wedding anniversary, and every year the first appearance of the flowering bulbs helps me to recall that beautiful Chicago day thirteen years ago.

My classroom at Peabody overlooks Mount Vernon Square and its beautiful old magnolia trees, and every year I anxiously await their blooms. Most locals call these “tulip trees,” in reference to their large, chalice-shaped flowers, and in Baltimore they grow to epic proportions. The trees in Mount Vernon Square are among the most spectacular in the city, and this is the last year that they might exist since planned renovations to the park call for their removal and for their replacement by new plantings.

Last Friday was the final day of classes before my spring break. I began the day as I begin most teaching days, by enjoying the view of one of the most visually appealing cities I’ve ever experienced. To my disappointment, the magnolias had yet to bloom. However, as the day wore on, I noticed the blossoms were unfurling gradually so that when I finished teaching I was treated to the full glory of the tulip trees. This visual wonder of spring will now shape my experience of the respite from teaching, creating a beautiful background for my memories of this year.

I especially appreciate this moment of beauty this year, because this spring finds me at the mercy of composing deadlines and other exciting projects that also have me frightened by their intensity. As I worry about my ability to meet all of my artistic commitments, I think about the magnolias, and my schedule doesn’t seem quite as daunting.

One thought on “Tulip Trees

  1. Mischa Salkind-Pearl

    David, I can’t tell you how much this post resonates with me. After heading to upstate NY for college, I returned to Baltimore to live in Charles Village for a few years, just a bit of a walk north of Peabody. The tulip trees are kind of iconic in Baltimore, and every city I’ve lived in has had something. 6 months spent in Madrid years ago revealed towering sycamores lining the huge boulevards. And now, in Boston, my solace from the terrors of composing is the Charles river, which I walk over every day to and from work.

    A life, thus far, of walking has probably influenced my music as much as anything else. I find myself time and again writing pieces “about” nature, gardens and the wild, and humans’ relationships to nature.

    Takemitsu has a beautiful article titled “Humans and Trees”, about the symbolic significance of plants. What I love the most is how rewarding it is that so many people find something so consoling in nature. Just so long as we maintain this attitude of respect….

    Reply

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