Although it has not happened since 1913, and won't happen again till 2008, Easter can come as early as March 23, just barely inside the official limits of spring. But whether Holy Week falls in March or April makes little difference in Texas. It's always springtime here by then.

People like the dogwood to be in full bloom for Good Friday. They like to point out to one another how the dogwood's white blossom, shaped like an ivory Maltese cross, each point dented and tinged with red, is an emblem of Christ's crucifixion wounds. They even send one another greeting cards bearing the so-called Legend of the Dogwood, which links the tree with the wood used for the cross.

The dogwood trees are usually blooming at about the same time I teach college sophomores the Housman poem that begins,

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Most of my students have never seen cherry trees in bloom. The Texas weather is too mild and genial for the cherry's hearty nature, so I rely on the dogwood tree to furnish them with a reasonable facsimile of Housman's vision. The decorative dogwood chooses to display its white blossoms along the highways precisely when they will be the most conspicuous—before their own leaves unfurl and before the other, taller trees have put on their new leaves. Thus, the shadowy recesses of the winter-bare forests provide the perfect background for the white blossoms.

The only rival to the dogwood's ostentation during Holy Week is the redbud, also known as "the Judas tree." Most flowering trees bloom only from the tips of their twigs, but the redbud's small, purplish pink blossoms pop out all over its smooth, silvery skin, even ...

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