When I was a growing up, my parents and I rarely took real vacations. If we traveled during school holidays, it was usually to visit family in Kentucky. We never flew; that was another extravagance we didn’t consider. I enjoyed the drive, which took about eight hours from our house in Atlanta. I had the back seat of Daddy’s big station wagon to myself. I read, slept, or best of all, gazed out the window for hours. In the days before multi-lane freeways straightened the routes, cut through mountains and homogenized the views, the road passed through diverse landscapes. It offered up-close glimpses of small town Main Street stores and all kinds of homes, from trailers to farmhouses to mansions. I had no cool tech gadgets and no need for them. There was a living landscape painting to observe: the quietly vital drama of the changing scenery.
It was a pleasure to watch urban, then suburban Atlanta morph into Georgia countryside. I loved the dramatic switchbacks through Tennessee as the two-lane road wound up Signal Mountain. If we were going to celebrate Easter with my grandparents, time seemed to go backward. We left full-blown spring in Atlanta, where the dogwoods and azaleas might be in bloom. The Georgia landscape was awash in green, with a few budding hardwood trees interspersed among seas of pines. Once in Kentucky, the hills were dressed primarily in drab shades of gray, brown and tan. Most trees were still bare. Here and there the cedars, scrappy and resilient, added splashes of dark green. The only touches of real color were the rosy pinks of the redbuds. These small, determined trees brave the cold and sound the trumpet call of the new season.
So it is that redbud trees speak to me of home and family. Six years ago, when we added our screened porch and created a real back yard, it was important to include a redbud tree. The silver maples and lilacs were already there. The redbud was our own addition to the landscape of home.
I find all redbud trees beautiful, with their slender, graceful branches, bright buds and heart-shaped leaves. But when we came upon a variety known as Appalachian Red, I knew that was the one for us. Its buds are deep fuchsia in color instead of the more typical pink. When they first appear, they resemble tiny, brilliant jewels. They glow almost like pomegranate seeds. I love that name, Appalachian Red. Every time I say it in my mind I see the promise of spring in the straw-colored Kentucky hills of my childhood.
Our little Appalachian Red, in its cozy spot outside our family room window.