While I was walking at lunchtime through the UC Davis arboretum, I caught a glimpse of bright red. As I got closer, I could see tiny red flowers on a leggy bush.
The bush is quince, and its presence in Northern California transported me back a quarter of a century to another place.
One of the gifts of Northern California has given me is a botanical history of my life. The cottonwoods of my childhood grow here, along with maple trees from my Ohio college town, palm trees from my Florida years and the tangerine trees laden with orange fruit that graced my grandmother’s San Diego back yard.
And the quince before me today brought back the memory of my first home in Arkansas. Every January and February, I looked forward to seeing the quince bushes bloom in the yard. The tiny, bright red flowers always emerged at the bleakest time of the year, when all the plants had died back, leaving the yard a murky brown, and the cold winds threatened to bring ice storms, sleet and snow.
The quince’s delicate red petals smiled at me and seemed to whisper in my ear: “Hang on just a little longer. Spring is right around the corner.” Their bright colors never failed to make me smile, even on the darkest day.
Quince bushes need trimming in order to grow, so I would cut the branches during blossom to bring a little bit of spring inside on a cold winter’s day.
I stood looking at the bush a bit longer, lost in nostalgia, then I took my phone out to snap a photo to remember it by. I couldn’t get a good angle to see the blossoms, so I took several. As I was taking them, a young woman with a wheelbarrow walked by me on the trail.
As I started to walk away, she called after me: “Excuse me, ma’am?” I turned around. She was holding clippers, standing by the quince.
“Would you like a cutting? I need to trim it back anyway,” she said.
I felt a catch in my throat and nodded. She clipped off a beautifully twisted branch and handed a small piece of my history back to me. I walked back to my office, my eyes damp with gratitude, and put my cutting in a vase with water.
It was a beautiful, quintessential UC Davis moment.