August – The Hawthorne Tree


I am delighted to receive Joshua’s story on a Hawthorne tree for the August tree story . 

Piyo’s view  acrylic on canvas 50 x 60 cm


A seven year-old named White Horse once found a tree painted on smooth stone by a cave on a mountain called Rooster Crown in Changping. Urban legend claims that a hundred years ago Taoists attained immortality up there. White Horse used this round boon for a special gravestone .


Our dog had died and we planted her beneath the Hawthorne tree in our courtyard. She was a tri-coloured collie abandoned by her owner in an empty yard next to ours. One day I got locked out, scaled the red brick wall through vines of ivy and there she was laying among rubbish, sheepishly peering up at me.


I took her in and our luck increased. Maybe. At least that’s what our Lithuanian friend said. She said that Laima ,a Baltic goddess of fate, bestows good luck to people  who take in stray-dogs. White Horse wanted to name our new dog Pirate or Yoghurt soon settling on both – Piyo. Piyo was clearly already old and one day I left chocolate bonbons out. She ate them and died.


The Chinese grandma in our family questioned whether or not it was ok to bury Piyo in our courtyard like that right beneath this Hawthorne tree. Maybe grandma was just being a proper, superstitious Maoist, but I didn’t know and superstitions do cling to location. So to be safe I turned one of my monk shawls into a dog shroud thinking that’d make everything holy.


Last Autumn the mother of White Horse brought a woven platter full of Hawthorns from our tree to her father in Tonghzhou. He was an old-Beijinger and mashed the fruits into jam which we spread on toasted slices of imported bread. About a half-year later (early spring 2020) this elderly gentleman (key family member) had passed away too. Not from the virus though as timing might suggest.


The funeral took place a day after heavy restrictions on gathering were lifted. We first gathered at the crematorium and then the family graveyard at the centre of Songzhuang art district. This Chinese funeral was amazing.  Both the unabashed wailing of his childhood friend over open casket and steel-like delivery of the officiant pressed my curiosity as a WASP from New England. Those of us with Puritan roots are accustomed to not showing our emotions and at having someone who admires God to lead our significant ceremonies in life and death. I was given the honour of carrying the portrait of White Horse’s grandfather while his daughter held his urn.


Not long afterwards it was first-half of May and the Hawthorne tree in our yard was bowing under rich weight of puffy, nectar-soaked blossoms. They proved themselves gloriously white and worth getting licked by pollen buzzing bees. These Hawthorn flowers screamed out to the surrounding landscape, “Remember me because of how utterly bright I am. And this will help you understand that later in the year when I grow fruits, when I offer life, you can return to me and get nourishment.”


The Hawthorne is shady refuge for the departed lady of luck Piyo. It is splashing energy through wicked springtime colour. It is fuel for honey. Our tree gives tart, tangy fruit-taste that has a mild sweetness. Medically it is known as a remedy for heart failure. If only I had been more sensitive to this essential detail sooner, I might have been able to support my best friend a bit better who died of a heart attack in December. This tree serves perfectly for the wheel of life. Its generous limbs circling about, the lilting gaze of the tree soaks through my heart. As for a hermit what could be better source for the fruits of beauty and truth than a magnificent Hawthorne. Stable, steady and pure. Resting outside my window we follow the changing seasons of luck.


Joshua is a painter and aspiring writer living in Shangyuan art village on the outskirts of Peking.

Link on the author 


White Horse and Joshua with the Hawthorne tree in the background

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Memory Palace of Trees 2020 is an ecological art practice which invites your participation to tell a story (or give some kind of information) about trees. It is a social enquiry of how to live better with the planet and with people by simply sharing stories. You are cordially invited to tell me your story of a tree or trees. (email : I would love to hear from you. Throughout 2020 a story will be posted with either an artwork already made or perhaps your story will inspire me to make a new work!