Almond Blossoms

This is why we came to Edenkoben, Germany: to see the almond trees in blossom. A herald of spring, the almond trees bloom while many other trees are bare, sometimes as early as February. Like Easter, they promise rebirth.

But, after the darkest winter on record and the coldest March in over one hundred years, this is what we saw when we got to Edenkoben: not a hint of spring green. The grape vines didn’t show so much as a single leaf.

We and the Germans are growing desperate for spring. Germany hasn’t thawed out for months. Ever since spring officially arrived, night after night has been below freezing, and the days have hardly been better. We can’t get into our gardens, we haven’t been able to prune or clear the trash away, and those people who’ve been shopping the plant sales have been huddling indoors with all their new purchases, the clematis vines and box shrubs crowding the floor tiles near the windows like unhappy refugees.

March is the time when the various almond blossom festivals take place in the Rheinland-Palatinate—that is, in any year but this year. Gleiszellen wound up cancelling their festival. Gimmeldingen keeps moving the date. But Edenkoben, after having moved their festival once, went ahead and held it this weekend, April 6-7th. Unfortunately, the almond trees didn’t cooperate. The sun came out, and so did some festival-goers, but the branches to the left of these wanderers should be loaded with pink and white blossoms.

Several years ago, I stood in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and studied the painting Vincent had made for his newborn namesake nephew, the painting called Almond Blossom, 1890 (Blühende Mandelbaumzweige). Vincent Van Gogh was already very ill, but the knowledge that his dearly loved brother, Theo, had named this new son for him filled Vincent with gratitude and enthusiasm, and he wanted to create a special painting to hang in the child’s room. The work that resulted is a true masterpiece. Even Vincent praised its patience and firmness of touch. Would this mark a rebirth in the life of the troubled painter?

Alas, no. The effort had been too great. The very next day, Van Gogh suffered a fresh breakdown. By the time he recovered, the blossoms were all but gone, and his favorite season was over. “Really, I have no luck,” he wrote to Theo.

Vincent Van Gogh would not live to see the almond trees blossom again.

The sadness and wistfulness of this last great masterpiece of hope has haunted me since the day I saw it. Naturally, I couldn’t resist trying to capture my own Almond Blossom. Fortunately, a handful of young trees had flowered in spite of the cold. The older trees apparently knew better. It seems that “young and foolish” applies to trees as well as people.

To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page. Photos taken in April, 2013, in Edenkoben, Germany. Text and photos copyright 2013 by Clare B. Dunkle, with the exception of the Van Gogh painting, which is in the public domain. Weather information is from Spiegel Online International articles dated February 26, 2013, and March 28, 2013. Van Gogh information is from the Van Gogh Museum and the Vincent Van Gogh Gallery. No copying in whole or in part without the express written consent of the author.

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3 Responses to Almond Blossoms

  1. tanita says:

    Poor Van Gogh.

    I am reminded that historically there was a “long winter” year – one in which Spring NEVER came.
    The West Coast is on the El Nino/La Nina cycle, and it seems to hit the UK too, but Germany has been having increasingly colder, longer winters.
    It makes one wonder how far it’ll go before it bounces the other direction.

    Here’s to your almond blossoms taking a few more chances and opening up.

  2. tanita says:

    The poignancy of Van Gogh’s story makes me long for some spring, and almond blossoms spread over his grave.

    Interestingly, I remember that way back in the nineteenth century there was a year of endless winter. As the climate cycles through its various patterns and changes, I wonder how close we’ll get to that…

  3. Clare B. Dunkle says:

    Yes, this winter has been very harsh. We’re ready for a little warm sunshine!

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