The Dazzle of Winter Trees

January 31st, 2014 · 4 Comments · Beyond Gotham, Columns and Features

During the howling of the wind, the crunching sound of steps on a frozen trail, or the diamond sparkle of the late afternoon sun, you see it standing there – unmoved, strong, and enchanting to the eye. To know nature’s spirit in infinite variety, get close to a single tree in winter – look at it, touch it, stand back and take it in. Hal Borland, the essayist and author who walked the woodlands and fields for decades and shared what he saw and felt with thousands of readers, wrote of finding “the truth of trees” in winter. He cited particularly the hardwoods of his backyard, the Northeast’s hills, though the experience is in many places. In summer, the trees collectively become lush, vast woodlands. In autumn, they burst with exuberant colors that paint entire hillsides. In winter, however, the clarity of the sunlight most reveals each tree as a unique form, as Borland observed.

“Trees, not a forest or a woodland,” Borland wrote. “Trees rooted in earth, reaching for sun and stars, each in its own way. And each with its own symmetry, its own pattern. Trees that have known ice and storm, have been maimed, have healed, have held fast through more winters than any man will ever know. Trees waiting, as only trees can wait, for spring and summer when they will be a woodland again, a vastness of green and an ocean of shade.”

In winter, we see each tree in its glory and its quirkiness – a no-two-alike creature that is lacy and thick, hard and soft, straight and crooked, delicate and strong. Some appear animated and fierce, others gentle and precise as a ballet movement. The gold and deep pink of the horizon during winter’s dawn and dusk highlights each tree. An encounter along a path reveals the wild profusion and deep etchings of a life that has outlasted the raw elements of so many seasons. To look past these winter trees is to close your eyes to a daily revelation. Yes, spring’s fullness is coming but who dare ignores their beauty and their message of life’s resilience now?

View the slide show larger at Flickr.

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Esther Pla

    Susan, again you stir the spirit with words and pictures. A wonderful thing! Thank you so much.

    • Susan DeMark

      Esther, thank you! I am so pleased that you enjoyed it and that it stirred your own spirit. Knowing some of your photos of nature and your thoughts on it, I know you to be one who appreciates that spirit so well!

      Enjoy your day, my friend.


  • David Thompson

    Great essay, Susan. Having just dipped into the best winter I am likely to have for some time I have returned home to what is forecast today as 41 deg C, a 55 deg C (130 deg F) increase on that coldest day in NYC about 10 days ago. A brutal day but the trees, most of them, will survive just at those in your neck of the woods (no pun intended) will survive your extreme winter conditions.

    I would not like to live somewhere where the seasons are interchangeable. I like to see the natural changes that the seasons bring and trees are a major part of that.
    They’re a lovely set of photos, Susan, and the trees will look just as amazing when the first tinge of green appears in a month or two and they bloom into their full leafy glory, after that only to die off again in a blaze of reds and oranges and yellows. I love it!

    • Susan DeMark


      First, wow about those temperature extremes. You will be ready for any kind of expedition! Sounds like we have a lot to learn from the trees, doesn’t it?

      Thank you so much for your thoughts about the essay — I very much appreciate that and am happy that you related to it, too.

      Like you, I prize the seasons’ changes and savor watching the way it occurs — the timing, the signs, the transformation. You put the cycle very eloquently!

      Happy that you enjoyed the photos and essay.

      Keep cool and comfortable — that’s a funny thing to say after just saying a little while ago to you, “Stay warm”!


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