At one time or another, most of us have been introduced to the poem “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer – “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.” I recall reading it in grade school and how I personally took it as an invitation to explore the trees in my backyard and nearby woodlands; to think of them as vibrant living things instead of just a backdrop of my world. At that age, like many children, the idea didn’t hold my attention for long, but the seed was planted and it sprouted and grew over time. Now, I consciously seek out the leaf and flower buds that herald the coming of spring and the joy of seeing them open to the sun. Trees, at that time of year, speak to me about cycles of life, of opportunities for new beginnings and of changed perspectives. In summer, I relish the sense of growth and well-being that comes from watching them gracefully stretch, bend and branch out to form lush green landscapes. There is no better sense of contentment on a hot, humid August day than sitting under an old shade tree with its branches stirring a light breeze and protecting me from the hot sun. In autumn, I’m in color heaven seeking out the rich jewel tones that the season of bounty brings. With all of that, it is during the winter season when I truly look at how special the trees truly are.
Whether a mighty old oak or maple, a seemingly delicate white birch, or the streaming branches of a weeping willow, I view them with renewed appreciation during winter. When the sky is as white as marshmallow fluff and the tree branches are silhouetted against the pure empty brightness; when they are devoid of their colors and leafy glory, each one stands out majestically and seems to have a story to tell of its life. Winter is when the cores and hearts of trees are laid bare to show a beauty that is hidden during the other seasons. Each one is, in itself, a unique sculpture and wonderful piece of nature’s art.
PICTURE THIS: Trees in winter shed their covers, laying open pages of evidence of strength and survival under the harsh conditions of cold, heat, drought, floods, invading plants and destructive insects. They unashamedly stand naked to share histories of youthful vigor and determination; of the wear and tear of years of existence; of success under adversity and stress. We can read between the lines of their bare branches to see how they protect others and how their berries and fruits sustain the creatures in their environment. And in the bare, unrobed earth at their base, roots slyly hint at a lively and critical network of communication and support that scientists are only now beginning to understand. It makes me want to hug a tree and say thanks for being there and contributing so much to keep this earth healthy.
So on these cold, winter days when instinct says to curl up in front of the fireplace, try taking a walk instead and really look at the trunks, roots, and branches of our woody friends and the things normally hidden from view. Look for the nests that will be home to a new generation of birds come spring; find the buds that will create the spring renewal; appreciate the signs of survival despite broken limbs from winter storms; explore the cavities that provide winter homes. Look for the grace in the limbs, the arthritic knotted old arms and joints, the trunk that has expanded with age, the bark that wrinkles and buckles and sheds with age versus the smoothness of youth. Most of all, just enjoy the wonderful art show of shape, lines and texture that Mother Nature provides even in the coolest depths of winter.