by Wayne Pauly from Dane County Parks ACTION Adult Conservation Team Newsletter (All folklore stories)
Shadbush, Serviceberry, Juneberry
If you’ve ever been on vacation and lost track of which week it was, then imagine a pioneer immigrant pioneer family living through their first New England winter in a one room cabin with six kids full of cabin fever. No fresh meat since last fall, salt pork and beans all winter, and they were getting to the bottom of the food barrel. After a hard winter, they’d lose track of the month and wonder if spring would ever come. They had no calendars to mark passage of time, instead they used wildflowers and trees. New comers might be fooled into “thinking spring” as a result of a January or February warm spell.
Neighbors cautioned them to watch that small tree with the smooth gray bark, because shadbush flowers signaled the true end of winter and time for shad to come up river and spawn. Families gorged on this first fresh meat in nearly half a year, and they preserved hundreds of pounds of fish for the coming year. The shadbush had a special meaning to the hungry pioneers in those uncertain times.
Some called it Juneberry because the delicious fruits ripened in June. Others called it Serviceberry because it bloomed when the dirt roads had thawed and dried enough so the circuit riding preachers could come around and conduct wedding services for couples who had waited patiently through the long, cold winter. The preachers also provided wedding and possibly baptismal services for couples who had not been so patient.