Shawnee News-Star Sunday November 12th 2017 Becky Emerson Carlberg American robins filled the sky Tuesday morning with chittering, singing and feathers.   They flew overhead, perched in trees and covered the ground. We now have our resident robins as well as the migratory ones that wander from one place to another.     These fall guys fly and [...]

Shawnee News-Star Sunday November 12th 2017

Trifoliate Oranges in the spring

Becky Emerson Carlberg

American robins filled the sky Tuesday morning with chittering, singing and feathers.   They flew overhead, perched in trees and covered the ground. We now have our resident robins as well as the migratory ones that wander from one place to another.     These fall guys fly and feed in large flocks and tend to get along.   In the spring come battles for territory and nest building.   The anniversary of my dad's death arrived early Thursday morning.   He died about 5:30 am which makes sense.   He was the morning person who rose before the sun, raring to go.   The autumn was spectacular the year my father died, full of brilliant reds, yellows and oranges.   The temperature plunged the day before the funeral and all had to bundle up for the graveside services.   My memories were returning to a warm house afterward that turned stuffy hot during the afternoon as people came and went.

This last weekend we traveled to my parent's home.   The estate had been under siege since my mother's death Christmas of 2015.    After the majority of possessions mysteriously disappeared, the court had to intervene to determine the sale of the house and land.   I was just too slow in dealing with things and money was the objective. One week ago checks were distributed.  I can now go home to finish repairing the family homestead my dad and his brothers built.

The residence is surrounded by trees.   Three years ago a giant hackberry limb crashed not only through the wooden fence that separated my folk's house from their next door neighbors, but part of the branch landed on the neighbor's roof.   Trees do these things on occasion.   Saturday I looked through the glass patio doors to check the shape of the backyard and"lo and behold"the old maple had blown down. The tree, well over 100 years old, died a year ago, but at that time the future of the house was in limbo.   The maple freely offered its services to fungi, squirrels and birds.

Pepper at the Standing Maple tree

For years the stately maple, along with hackberries and elms, provided extensive shade that covered most of the patio.   In the spring my mother would move her sun porch plants outside to various sheltered spots on the backyard fence (Spider plants), under trees (Mother-in-Laws tongues/Sanseveiria sp.), on the patio (Philodendrons and periwinkles) and beside the well house (Bougainvilleas and Boston ferns.  The concrete patio was constructed around the large maple.   Few knew that below the concrete was the original patio, a project my mother and I tackled using the red bricks rescued from the theater that formerly stood by the railroad tracks. My dad was impressed with our efforts, but wanted a smooth level patio.  When my mother had gone to a trip to Austria, he decided to have concrete poured over the bricks. Glad I wasn't there when mom returned home.   To appease the gods, a four-sided bench was built around the maple tree that functioned as a plant or person perch.

Fallen Maple Tree

Furthest away from the maple, by the orange tree, became the temporary home for three enormous philodendrons (Monstera deliciosa) mom nurtured year after year.   Right, I said orange tree.   This orange tree (Citris/Poncirus trifoliata) had its own tale to tell.   The cold-hardy bitter orange is really a native of China and Korea.

How it arrived here in eastern Oklahoma is the question.   My guess is by horse or railroad.   Two railroads dissected town and how easy could it have been travelers that dropped seeds or threw the small, fuzzy yellow, seed-filled oranges from the hotel that used to be next door.   Trifoliate orange trees have been around since before the Civil War.   Citrus growers valued the cold-tolerant root stock and seedlings were shipped to California after the war ended.   However it happened, this bitter orange tree has been growing in a partially shaded spot for over sixty years.   Oklahoma State has 50 year old trifoliate orange cultivars  named 'Flying Dragon' that form hedges and are heralded as student proof.   Yup.   The orange trees have twisted multiple branches with savage thorns hidden amidst the three-leaf clusters, but the sweet citrus scent given off by the white blooms almost excuses the defensive shield. The fruit with a bite is edible, but put it into marmalade with plenty of sugar.

The fallen maple damaged the bench, but had landed in such a way as to avoid the house and roof.  A great tree to the very end.   Glancing toward the old orange tree, I scouted the ground for the bitter oranges that would now be all over the ground.   Weeks ago I collected a handful and brought back to Shawnee.   I figured they should work as a deterrent for rodents who try to nest in my van's engine area.   My new plan was to find more oranges and start a hedge fence at the Japanese Garden.   Do you think I could see even one orange?   They had all disappeared.   While detaching the hose inside the well house (winter is coming), I looked over and saw, on one shelf, two forgotten dog bowls full of yellow and brown oranges, some partially eaten.   What I had thought were bird droppings turned out to be orange seeds scattered along the shelf.  Some enterprising rodent had stored its winter cache in a safe out-of-the-way place.  So much for my idea of using bitter oranges to drive away rodents unless I handed them the keys.

Autumn Color in Shawnee

Large sections of maple were dragged to the backyard raised flower bed.   The disintegrating pieces would continue to decompose and make fine compost.  The bench boards were repositioned and nailed down.   Two birdbaths were cleared of leaves and filled with water.  The patio was swept free of branches, sawdust and more leaves.   Well, for now.   Judging from what are still in the trees, the raking has just started.

We locked up the house and drove to the cemetery.   I climbed the hill to my father's family plot to say goodbye to my dad and mom.  The fire ant mound built against one uncle's tombstone was kicked away, the American flags were firmly repositioned on the graves of former members of the military, and tall grasses pulled from the footings.   The soil had washed downhill from the edge of my parent's stone so rocks were placed in the gap.  Looks very rustic.   Life can be so bittersweet.