We had freezing rain last week. It’s not uncommon here, and there are moments when I am bewitched by the beauty of branches varnished by a thin coat of ice. With a palette of blue sky and morning sun, there is a brilliance about them that can hold my attention as few other things can. I’ve taken hundreds of photographs of these wonders, and not once have I been able to convey how difficult breathing is when I gaze at an entire street walled in pavé diamonds. Bitterly cold though it may be, it is nonetheless a stunning sight.
Winter leaves other beautiful marks behind. Hoar frost here seems a rare treat. Looked at from a distance, it is as though I’ve entered a fairy land that often disappears by noon. Up close, the branches resemble uninviting briar patches. They aren’t, of course but I sometimes wonder if they pull on a prickly garment because they woke up cranky.
Or maybe I’m just projecting.
Without question, the trees are fragile beneath their icy beauty. Though the storm last week was only a few hours long, my back yard is littered with a handful of branches that didn’t make it. We’ve previously lost entire stands of birch trees back there to the ice, watching as they bent beneath the weight until they snapped, but these branches are smaller and the weight of the ice was, I’d thought, insignificant. Most of the trees are fine, temporarily insulated from the outside world by the ice. Most of the plants recover without any apparent damage whatsoever. They are stoic, these trees.
Or not. It is impossible to see how the heartwood is stressed and damaged beneath the bark.
I wonder why some trees survive a storm but the one beside it doesn’t. Why one branch makes it and another snaps apart? Does it break because a bird tries to land? Was that the little thing that was too much? Or had the tree stopped seeking lifeblood, the roots stopped seeking nourishment? Had it’s support system not done an adequate job until bits and pieces paid the price, or had it never been pruned properly in the first place, left to the whims of the wild?
It isn’t always a big thing that takes them down. It seldom is, in fact. Rather it’s an accumulation of stress over time until the tree can simply no longer hold on to the burden. Then the branch–or the trunk–lets go.
Some winters are brutal, some seasons seem too difficult to bear. It may take nurturing and care, but most trees survive the trauma of their seasons.
Afforded the same, most humans can too.