The sunlight dappled the path like an impressionist painting as I walked the woodland trail in the late afternoon. Once more I was struck by what I saw just by looking up. The light and shadows playing in the trees painted against the bright cerulean sky create a lovely collage. I’m trying to memorize some of the places where that I see the remnants of large nests to check later in the year for the birds that build them. Today however, I saw the jagged remains of a tree that had split and fallen during the last storm. Only part of it was on the ground making me wonder where the rest of it was. Unless I’d looked up, I would have missed seeing that in fact two trees had snapped off and were now precariously balanced in a large X upon a third tree. If I hadn’t been struck by the mystery below, I’d never have seen the balancing act going on above me.
I love winter because I get to focus on the silhouettes of trees and the different kinds of bark. I think my favorite is the common hackberry. Its smooth gray bark is bumpy with warts often laid out in density like the stars in the Milky Way. The warts make a close cluster at the base of the tree but then spread out randomly on the lovely silver bark as the tree grows higher. Another favorite is the sweet gum whose bark has deep ridges. Where the branches have been cut, you can see how the bark surrounds the round form in tall ridges. And best of all, the branches have wings on them. Usually the sweet gum trees are so big that you don’t see these amazing ridges growing along the branches. Some of the places where branches have been cut or broken off now form wrinkly faces like wood gnomes. They remind me of what I imagined the Ents in Tolkien’s books to look like. They are tall, gnarly and ugly.
While there are few flowers in the winter landscape, often remnants of previous blooms offer up an artistry you might miss in the summer. Often these flower skeletons blend into the scenery until a ray of sunlight spotlights them in the woods, looking like stars floating in the landscape.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
Psalm 19:1-4 NIV