“Between the arm of her sweater, her hat, and the white reeds, she could see a triangle of sky, sea, and sand-quite a small triangle.”
It’s this line and the ones that follow it in Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book that got me looking closely at the crabapple tree in the barnyard this morning.
Jansson goes on to describe what the grandmother sees in that small triangle created by her sweater, hat, and reeds as she lies on the beach. It’s a precise and magical description that allowed me to see what she was seeing.
But what so touched me about it was that it’s a way of seeing, that I’ve experienced all my life, yet never told anyone about and never heard anyone else mention.
I know so well those small shapes that we create arbitrarily and unexpectedly often with a part of our own body and can look through as if looking into an alternate world. They have mesmerized me and fed my imagination. They have kept me entertained, sometimes closing one eye or squinting to change the light or focus.
So this morning with Jansson’s writing in mind, I went looking for a small space between the branches of the crabapple tree to see what I could see.
And there it was, not what I was looking for, but something I’d never witnessed before although I know it’s not the first time it’s ever happened.
The branches of the apple tree were lined with fuzz. Not just one branch, but so many of them, were hairy in the rising sun.
My first thought was that it was wool. Because I often find tufts of wool caught on branches and fencing. But of course, that made no sense at all. How would the wool get up so high in the branches and on so many of them?
As I got a closer look I could see the soft hair was actually seeds.
So then I went looking for where the seeds came from. They were easy to find.
Just down the hill from the tree, on the edge of the marsh, the cattails were bursting. The tight brown flowers, sometimes called candlewicks, were losing their shape turning to golden down and being scattered by the wind.
Which is how they turned up lining the branches of the crab apple tree.
I’m grateful to Tove Jansson and her insightful writing. It was what led me to the crabapple tree so I could witness the dispersal of the cattail seeds. Until today I didn’t even know that cattails shed their seeds in the fall.
And never imagined them decorating the bare branches of a tree so beautifully.
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson is a beautiful and meaningful book. It’s about a girl and her grandmother on an island in the Gulf of Finland. Their relationship is unsentimental but loving and the book filled with their observations of the world around them.