Distracted by the leavings of winter

A glorious day, warm and bright. Having time to spend, and wanting to feel hopeful for the changing of a season, I sat where I could see the first full blooms of spring — but found myself distracted by the leavings of winter. Unloved and unnoticed, these masses of grays and browns, bare rock and tree and mud and crumbling leaf. But examine them closely in the dusky light of a fading afternoon, and the tattered monochrome resolves itself into a deep-textured symphony of shape and line shaded from the palette of a master. Overhead a web of branches, reaching, weaving, intertwining, the arteries and capillaries of an oak merging with the capillaries and veins of an elm, dark against the cool sky, yet not full dark: mottled, peeling, cracked, each limb marked by its own years, its character uncloaked by foliage, revealed for a time to us bound to earth. Underfoot the leaves, autumn-strewn and tousled by winter: the gold-pale maple, curled round itself as if for comfort from the cold; the rich roan elm, its teeth askew, its tip stretched upward to the sky; the russet oak arching boldly from its spine; the lavender-gray sycamore undulating broadly beneath. The fine lace of one nibbled away by insects. The delicate curves of a cedar’s dry needles. A broken branch, itself a mosaic of layering decay, with pale lichen flashing green as summer’s grass, there being none available for comparison. A patch of moss like a vision! And through cracks and interstices the deep near-black of mud, the rot of forgotten seasons and the womb of new. Ah, and there, bursting through with all the insistence of youth, a pair of fresh green shoots — but who needs them? Who wants them? Boisterous vanguard of the coming season, shouting their presence like half-clothed teenagers, drawing the eye needlessly from gentler beauty. And across the path, that army of lenten-rose whose company of ice-pale petals I had sought, their heady fragrance now revealing their true intent to march relentlessly through the wood, trampling winter’s serenity under rioting leaf and blossom. Catch the quiet while we can, for soon enough the serenely polychromatic community of the waiting earth will be masked by simple verdance. There is joy in the last of February, too.

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