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dogwood blossom
Dogwood Blossom
Salted paper print

When I was young, my family would often take Sunday afternoon drives into the countryside of northern Indiana. Springtime rides would be brightened by splashes of white in the woods; dogwood trees signaling the beginning of the season. Upon seeing these blossoms my mother would relate the legend of the dogwood tree to my siblings and me.

According to this legend, the dogwood tree was once tall and strong, with a long, straight trunk that made it an ideal building material. Because of these characteristics, wood from a dogwood tree was used to construct the cross used to crucify Jesus. The dogwood tree was so ashamed that its wood had been used for this purpose that God took pity upon it, and made it smaller and spindly so that it could never again be used in such a way. He also gave it delicate white flowers that bloom near Easter, with four petals shaped like a cross, and with a stamen with the appearance of a crown of thorns.

When I became an adult and developed the ability to question such things I learned that the dogwood tree does not grow in the middle east and could therefore not have been used as the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. But I guess that is the thing about legends. They don't have to be factual or historically accurate. Their power lies in the meaning behind the story.