One of the beauties of native trees, flowers, and grasses is that they need little maintenance and are adapted to a region’s precipitation patterns. But once in a while, a drought stresses the trees and flowers. That’s what happened some years back when our dogwood was about five years old. A drought hit while we were on vacation for several weeks, and there was no one to water the dogwood. It suffered, and some limbs died. I thought we were going to lose the entire tree, but the next spring, much of it had revived. Still, I ended up amputating the dead limbs. The tree no longer has the beautiful symmetry of its youth. Nevertheless, when it blossoms in the spring and leafs out in the summer, it is still quite lovely.
The poet Wallace Stevens said, “We live in the description of a place and not in the place itself.” I want my experience of the Ohio River Valley to be more than what I have read and been told. I want to live aware in this place. I want to see and smell spicebush. I want the pleasure of discovering in yet another spring Jack in his pulpit in the shadows of our yard. I want to see the profusion of spring white and the brilliance of autumn leaves on our dogwood. All of this roots me in place. It anchors me to Here and, therefore, also to Now.
“Geography,” Jon Levenson wrote, “is simply a visible form of theology.” I suppose a tree can be theology also, but my dogwood is more than theology. It is a visible form of belief.
—Franchot Ballinger (December 25, 1939 – August 24, 2021)
Franchot Ballinger (December 25, 1939 – August 24, 2021) taught English Literature at University College of the University of Cincinnati for nearly forty years. He volunteered at the Cincinnati Nature Center and as a spiritual care volunteer at Hospice of Cincinnati. Franchot is survived by his wife, Henrietta, four children, six grandchildren, and his sister. Franchot’s final resting place is in Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio, and also in the hearts of those that loved and respected him.