Saturday, April 2, 2016

Sarvis Trees

The hills are alive with sight of white blossoms everywhere. With no killing frost this year, we've had a most beautiful display of nature's majesty. The woods are still brown, only a tiny bit of green peeking through, so the white stands out even more...especially with the deep blue skies we've had this week.

My view across the road from my house

A close up of the same tree
The trees were alive with humming, too, the buzzing of delighted bees. I hope the sourwood trees are just as successful this season for the sake of that delicious commodity we call sourwood honey. Yummm.

I learned something about the white blossomed trees this year when I went to Tennessee for a quick vacation weekend in the Cumberland plateau region. My friend asked about the trees that were dripping carpets of white petals all over the ground. They weren't the Bradford pears that were so easily identified because of the perfect conical shape. So what were they?

"Those?" says the waitress in the catfish hut restaurant where we ate a delicious meal. "They're just old sarvis trees."

Of course, my friend just had to ask. 

"What are sarvis trees?"

In all my time here in western North Carolina, I've never heard that term. But for sure, there are sarvis trees growing amongst the foothills and the Appalachian Mountain peaks and the Cumberland plateau. Each year they are the harbingers of the spring thaw. Their blooming is the announcement breaking the drab of winter. "Spring" they say. 

So the waitress goes on, because the story is not complete. "Years ago," she continues, "when a person died in the winter, the ground was too hard to dig a grave. So the body was kept..." and this she didn't explain, but I can imagine... "until the blooms appeared on the sarvis trees." Which didn't explain the term sarvis. Until she said, "Service."

Say it...service.

Now say it with a mock Appalachian accent...sarvis.

A sarvis tree in the wild
When the blooms appeared on the sarvis trees, only then could the circuit rider appear in the backwoods Appalachian communities to conduct burial services for those who were unfortunate enough to pass away during the dead of winter. Only then was the ground thawed enough for the gravediggers to do their job. The burial sarvis. The white blossoms to alert the world that now is the time. The white blossoms to decorate the bare grave. The sarvis tree.

Okay, so modern that I am, I checked google and sure enough there it was in wikipedia with basically the same story, only dispelling the story! Ugh. Seems that the sarvis tree was identified back in the fifteen hundreds in Europe before the New World was even a glint in an explorer's eyes. The European Sorbus. But maybe, just maybe, they talked the same way as the early Appalachian settlers, and maybe, just maybe, those white blossoms told them that the European spring thaw was coming and maybe, just maybe, the people could have the service, pronounced sarvis, and bury their dead. 

True or not, it makes a great story to catch for a storycatcher like me! Up next this spring, the dogwood trees that bloom throughout the mountains. I can't wait.

Catch of the day,


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