Prairie Fire is the name given to the flowering crabapple tree that my neighbors, Michael and Jane, found for the Ahni Memorial Tree. It took a long time to choose one although we had agreed on a crabapple months before during the previous Fall. Michael was in charge of finding the tree but he just couldn’t find one that he liked until this past week.
Because it would be in my yard I selected the exact spot on the south-west facing slope just on my side of the willow fence the three of us had erected earlier, in the Spring. The tree would be visible to Michael and Jane from their second-story back porch overlooking my yard, and visible to me from my kitchen windows. In the coming years we hoped it would attract bees and birds to the flowers and fruit, especially roving flocks of Cedar Waxwing.
In October we organized the hole digging. At the time, I didn’t know this would be the Ahni Memorial tree. It was just a neighborly project. The three of us stood in the yard contemplating the site and I was thinking about Ahni, who in past years was always in the yard with me. But her arthritis, dimming eyesight and hearing loss were closing her off from the life she had loved so much. It seemed everyone in the neighborhood knew that Ahni was fading. It was Michael who suggested we plant the tree in her honor.
I have deliberately blurred my memory of the exact dates, but as it turned out we dug the hole within days of Ahni’s passing. There was snow on the ground when we dug the hole but it was actually a mild day. When I took Ahni to the vet for the last time it was a cold night and there was ice on the ramp leading up to the entrance of the vet hospital. I think it was early December.
So we dug the hole. We ran into so many large stones – 10 pounders – that it was very slow going. Below six inches of fine soil were clay and rocks, rocks, rocks. But Michael loves to play in the dirt — he says he will be a gardener in his next life — so although it was hard going he rallied Jane and me to persevere, and finally we marveled at the really deep, really broad hole we had dug.
All winter long the hole stared back at me from my kitchen windows. It was a long, cold winter, a winter like winters used to be in Ithaca.
But now it is peak Spring, the time when the leaves come out, the thrushes return and all the flowering trees, shrubs and plants are burgeoning.
Michael, Jane and I planted the tree yesterday, a warm, windy day with passing showers. As we worked the sun would go in out behind clouds and brief showers would pass over us. I looped a bit of wire loosely around the lowest branches and strung Ahni’s collar tag on it. I didn’t plan this, in fact I had planned on burying the tag in the hole — but I forgot! Then, before we staked in the deer fence, I put in those tulip bulbs (the ones I had neglected to plant last fall) around the base of our little Prairie Fire. There was one serious shower just as we were finishing the fence, but then the sun came out again.
I believe the lives of animals are brief and bright, like candle flames. A veterinarian who treated my horse once said, “They are beasts, not men.” For a long time that bothered me because I was experiencing my horse and my dog as my children, fulfilling the nurturing part of my nature. But I think what he meant is that animals have animal nature; unlike men they live in the moment and do not regret. Regret is for Man, and certainly women like me. Good neighbors are a support and constancy who can carry you through it, riding along as time flows around us.
Next spring I hope the bright orange bunching tulips I planted will announce the Prairie Fire‘s dark purple-red blossoms and we’ll enjoy them all as the brief, bright spring passes, reminding me of my little candle, my star, my lighthouse, my Ahni.