Beneath the icy exterior

by +CrystalThieringer    @cdthieringer


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 IMG_2413seems 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 DSC00189fact. 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.



19 thoughts on “Beneath the icy exterior

  1. Beautiful images and I liked how you tied it into us. Most humans can sustain pretty much, but then then sometimes it’s just the next thing that is THE thing. God is the one who sustains. That’s for sure.

  2. Very clever to juxtapose brutality of winter with the sustaining spirit within. I was left thinking that sometimes its piling on of little stressors that creates the tough exterior that, good or bad, makes trees and us more impervious to life’s extremes.

    1. And yet, if you touch one of the trees sheathed in the ice, those branches will often break too. It seems to insulate in both directions.

  3. At this–“Or maybe I’m just projecting.”–I laughed heartily.

    At this–“They are stoic, these trees. Or not. It is impossible to see how the heartwood is stressed and damaged beneath the bark.”–I mmmmm-ed.

    That “accumulation of stress over time” CAN BE deadly. You’re right–it’s not enough just to worry about nurturing and care during the extremes, but steadily and regularly.

    Love the pictures. Such delicate little sculptures.

    1. I guess I was having a prickly morning when I wrote about projecting. Some mornings it takes an hour or so to find my cheerfulness. A hearted-latte or two never hurts to help that along!

  4. Such an insightful and beautiful expression of nature and spirit. I LUV the pictures here as I do in your other posts.

    1. Thank you! I love to take the pictures, and am grateful to digital photography for that aspect. I couldn’t afford photography when I was younger, though I’ve always been interested in it.

  5. I’ve always wondered with trees if the winter isn’t pruning–good or bad–in a direction of it’s own choosing where “broken branches” become the places where new growth is fostered. The images in this piece are beautiful as is the allusion to people and survival and there is a certain gritting of the teeth and wondering, “is survival possible?” I love the line about prickly garments and projecting. It made me laugh to think of it. Beautiful photos too for a piece which is as much to be read as to be viewed and savored.

    1. I imagine winter is pruning, though new growth doesn’t always happen over the scar. The scar remains. New growth can happen around it though, and often in forests deadwood is needed to support that new growth, to help saplings reach their potential height. Thank you for your encouragement.

  6. Your photographs always draw me in, and then your words make me smile, and ponder. Having a couple of friends who are battling with mental health issues, my mind went immediately to them as I read this. Your gift for describing the landscape paired nicely with the shots you shared.

    Crystal, thank you again for your careful reading and suggestions with my apology piece. You went above and beyond…

    1. It does affect our mental health, for sure, but our physical health also takes a toll. Stress can mimic symptoms of physical ailments as well.

      As for the rest? You’re very welcome!

  7. I’ve been feeling a bit like the trees lately, so your observation, “it’s an accumulation of stress over time until the tree can simply no longer hold on to the burden” really hit home. Thanks for reminding me to strengthen myself from the inside, so that my outside can hold up to the ice.

    1. Some seasons are hard, Christine. That’s just how it is–and we do need to make sure we are being well nurtured from the inside. We should check in with each other again to see how we’re doing because I need to make sure I can handle it too. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Well nurtured on the inside … yes, Crystal! Thanks for this. I love the beauty of an ice storm, too, but a dazzlingly, clear coating really can hide a hurting inside.

    1. Dazzling on the outside, hurting on the inside–that about sums it up, doesn’t it?

  9. This! “It is impossible to see how the heartwood is stressed and damaged beneath the bark.” And this: “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.” Such insight, beautifully written.

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