Two months ago at the solstice, my dogs and I went for our morning constitutional and found something altogether new on our regular walk. In the night, a gnarled apple tree standing in the clearing through which we always cut, had been transformed. Its trunk, corseted in layers of tulle, supported limbs wrapped to their end in nubby chenille. In December’s wintery landscape this splash of color was a fanciful surprise. I marveled over someone’s dedication to so curious an impulse. It could not have been easy to reach up amid the pokey branches and delicately swaddle each one. And yet, whoever undertook this task persisted in the dark and cold until this tree shone out in the bare landscape.
Through these past months, I’ve watched my experience of this tree shift. As the weeks wore by, the wintery weather took its toll on the wrappings. It wasn’t just the tattered look I began to find depressing. The more times I passed this swaddled tree, the more annoyance crept up in me. It wasn’t until I came across Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Black Rook In Rainy Weather,” that I recognized the source of my irritation. Plath’s poem explores those occasional, fleeting moments when something seems to lean through nature to illuminate our lives, those “rare” and “random” experiences when we encounter something that “seizes our senses/ hauls our eyelids up.” Have you experienced those moments of grace? The world opens up for just a second and you are on the spot to witness it.
I don’t know what the anonymous tree-wrapper had in mind, but for me the tree became a reminder of what it wasn’t – a genuine moment of “backtalk/ From the mute sky.” The adornment was a novelty certainly but it couldn’t seize my senses or garner more than a wry smile. Rather than be akin to those sudden, miraculous moments, the swathed tree amplified their absence.
And so it went until this morning. When I reached the clearing, it took me a moment of looking around to realize the tree had been unwrapped, the tulle and chenille cleared away. Once again the tree was a winter-bare apple, bootprints pressed in the snow beneath.
I walked on and after another hundred yards, the morning sun cleared the ridgeline. Light slanted across the field, touching stems and twigs, illuminating the hoar frost that, in the night, had arranged itself on every hospitable surface. Suddenly, I was standing amidst a thousand luminous halos. And here it was: after all my winter trudging, I was fortunate enough to find myself on the spot for one of those illimitable moments. Like all such moments, it was unexpected, unlooked for, pure gift. “Miracles occur,” Plath says.
It didn’t take long for the hoar frost to melt, within half an hour the clearing fell back into winter drabness. But, while it lasted, this glorious moment was an oasis – in a way that nothing of my own making, or yards of fabric and skeins of yarn could ever hope to be. It revived me for more “trekking stubborn/ through this season of fatigue.”
There’s plenty more trekking ahead. But, miracles occur. I saw one this morning. I know the trudging will get tiresome in the days ahead, but now I can cut back through this internal clearing and find this memory wound round my heart – a living tree, adorned.
P.S. My husband tells me I have to write about something other than walking the dogs next time! Apparently, that daily habit gives me plenty to think about and seems to surface in these Considers regularly. Thanks to all of you for accompanying me and my four-legged pals on these little meanders.
P.P.S. I drafted this Consider a few weeks ago and then got waylaid by the flu overtaking our household. The frost is long gone. We now have mud season in its place.
P.P.P.S. The moment with the light shining through the hoar frost made me think of a letter John Adams wrote. Near the end of his life, he woke to find an ice storm had turned every tree into a “Chandelier of Cutt Glass.” I love these words he penned about that storm: “I have seen a Queen of France with eighteen Millions of Livers of diamonds upon her person—and I declare that all the charms of her face and figure added to All the glitter of her jewels did not make an impression upon me equal to that presented by every Shrub.”
Here’s to hoping you have such moments when you are met by the miracle of every shrub!