The Rain Tree

K. Kauffman, The Rain Tree,
Ink on paper, 32″x22″, 2022

I grew up in Seattle with omnipresent rain and abundant trees.  In early spring, pink blossoms covered fruit trees. 

The east side of my family’s one-acre plot featured a cherry orchard, with a few plum, pear and apple trees growing wild in the back. Blossoms heralded the advent of caterpillar season. We used no pesticides, only muscle power to hack down the branches harboring the caterpillar tents where their larvae developed into worms, ready to munch the tender fruit to come. My dad wielded a ten-foot-long lopping shear, angling it amongst the branches to pinpoint an insect nest. With a precise chop, a branch fell. I hopped to do my job. Holding the severed limb as far from me as possible, I carried it to the heap of branches ready for an evening bonfire. As I built my pyre, I imagined the yummy hotdogs and marshmallows to come. 

Some memories have resonated forever in my mind. Decades later, my meandering pen drew this pink tree, filled with blossoms of early spring. Due to an undefinable intuition, I added dark vertical shapes and thought of them as exaggerated rain drops, sliding down the tree. They could have been caterpillar tents, since blossoms and the insects resided together in my memory bank. Growing up in Seattle, I spent thousands of hours staring at the damp skies and analyzing the types of rain: a drench meant full ditches-perfect for racing my little home-made boats, during mist I climbed trees where the leafy canopy kept me dry, intermittent showers were normal and I played with friends outdoors.  These types of rains were my daily reality and far more present than the spring caterpillars. I knew that all the types of rain nourished our large trees, giving life to the fruit that we lovingly wrapped; each apple, plum or pear in one Sears Catalogue page. We stored these boxes of fruit in our basement cellar, and we ate them all winter. 

Sometimes rain reminded me of tears. Both sources of water felt wet and fell down whether I wanted them to or not. I wondered whether my newly drawn Rain Tree was more about crying. When I was eight, one frigid January night, my father suddenly died of a heart attack. My tears seemed endless. But, in the spring, I obeyed the cycle of life and returned to the orchard, climbed the trees and cut off the tents as best I could. Come summer, I sold the cherries, ten cents per pound, to earn money to help support our devastated family. Cherries proved to be too valuable for us to eat or preserve through the winter for ourselves.

Many years of tending our orchard reminded me that the gift of rain brought life and caused roots to draw sustenance from deep within the earth. In this mass of ink lines, I re-experienced, once again, how rain on the trees meant glorious and life-giving sustenance. The Rain Tree will be on exhibit at the Seattle Art Fair, July 27-30 in the Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York section.