Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of stories about local gardens featured on the tour “Literary Lawns, Town and Country” to benefit Athens-Limestone Public Library from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, June 9. Tickets are for $15 each at Athens-Limestone Public Library, Crawford’s, Pablo’s on Market, Pimentos, Suzanne’s Bakery, and Trinity’s Gifts and Interiors.
Vicki and Joe Curtis
500 East Washington Street
“To a Waterfowl”
When asked what literature came to mind when he thought of his watery garden lair, Joe Curtis looked heavenward and quoted from American poet William Cullen Bryant’s 1818 “To a Waterfowl,” a poem he’d been required to memorize as a youth by Athens Bible School’s beloved Brother A.J. Rollings.
“Whither, midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?”
And while one is enticed to enter by the tinkles and trickles of the waterfall crafted of creek bed boulders, the ear is then overwhelmed by the eye with the sight of the magnificent maclura pomifera, commonly known as the horse-apple, hedge-apple, bodock, Osage-orange, or even bois d’arc (French for bow wood) tree, this one boasting a seventeen foot circumference.
Dioecious, meaning the male and female flowers are on different trees (as opposed to monoecious or hermaphroditic trees), the females are noted for their green, bumpy, softball-sized fruit; however, the Curtis’ tree is a male, and what an old man he must be. Native Americans used the Osage-orange wood for bow-making, and the fruit was formerly placed under the bed as a natural insect repellant for spiders and mosquitoes.
While this practice has declined with the use of synthetic insecticides, recent scientific studies have confirmed the extract of the hedge-apple to indeed be as powerful as DEET. Snug in the slope of the hillside like a nesting bird, the falls call me back to the twenty-first century as Joe tells me of his regular visitor, a heron, who likewise loves this Monet-like water iris oasis, and Bryant’s words return,
“Thou’rt gone, the abyss of heaven
Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, in my heart
Deeply has sunk the lesson thou hast given,
And shall not soon depart.”
— Dr. Bebe Gish Shaw is a professor of English at Athens State University.