January 16, 2015

Sticks in the window

I never really thought I would see beauty in a winter-bared tree trunk. But I suppose it is really a matter of how you frame it.

I learned about forests in the Northwest, where the definition of “tree” is something very tall, very green and very determined to stay that way in the coldest of winters.

When I first saw Missouri in the spring, I was amazed by the lush green canopy that stretched over me like an organic tent. You don’t really walk through the forest in the Northwest – you thrash through the low fir and spruce limbs hoping you won’t get a handful of needles down your shirt. But Missouri is on the edge of the Great American Hardwood Forest – that leafy cathedral through which movie Indians crept silently and under which the village smithy stood.

Of course, the movies seldom have winter editions. Hardwoods are lush in the spring and then spectacular in the fall when they burst out into color – just before losing everything. By November, that great leafy cathedral has become a bunch of naked sticks.

But I have come to love those sticks. This time of the year, I frequently find myself staring out my window in Zen-like silence, just watching the sticks.

We have five huge windows that look out on the forest. Between me and the trees is a deck, a heated birdbath and a couple of feeders. And umpteen-dozen squirrels, as many woodpeckers, and troops of nuthatches, wrens, jays and finches who enjoy my largess. Plus the odd raccoon or woodchuck come just to torment my dog.

My wintry oaks and maples are not just figures in a still life. The are the cast of a full-fledged matinee feature.

The view of those “dead” sticks through my windows is an ever-changing passion play. I’m constantly amazed at how tree trunks so bare can shelter an ark-ful. In the Northwest, I could hear that birds were up there, but seldom saw more than a flash of feathers.

Here the lack of cover means neighbors of any species have little choice but to politely nod to each other. So I stand at my window and raise my coffee cup to the creature of the moment.

It’s a Midwest kind of thing. Not a bad one, at that.