Mind & Spirit

Janine’s Journal: Owing to Fragile Chance

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It’s a marvel walking amongst our region’s snow-covered woods. Executive Editor Janine Pumilia admires the lovely trees.

Like divas and dancers and princes and preachers, they stand with arms upstretched toward light. Bereft of splendid leafy wardrobes that conceal maimed trunk and stumpy limb, the trees reveal their stories in winter.

Each is an individual work of art. Taken together, a lattice of life support to wild things largely unconcerned with human angst.

(I wonder why, as children, we drew trees with straight lines, when in fact their branches softly bend and drift in curves?)

Some trees proudly telegraph their economy of energy, through vase-like symmetry and Spartan form. But over there stands a copse of unruly little dancers, each adorned with branches that spring from other branches in a woody infinity. An excessive cloud of reverie circling brawny core – frivolous? We’ll be glad enough for that low-hung wood when fruit ripens in summer.

Owing to fragile chance, some trees steal life from others, inch by inch, year by year, rendering their victims weak and pale until they succumb to bug and blight. “I’m innocent!” cries the victorious oppressor. “Blame canker and aphid and thrip, not me!”

Owing to fragile chance, a random breeze once deposited that victor’s seed here – here and not there. A trinity of soil, water and sunlight rose up to kiss it, conjuring magic. It flourished, unimpeded. We’re all very glad that it did. Except those left behind in its shady wake.

The losers stand twisted and deformed, their life stories on sad, frozen display; how they struggled to reach light! They bent left and right and soldiered on! But their chance to grow straight is evaporated like dew.

Trees are open books in winter, yet the morbid masquerade of one kind is best hidden in cold air. Only when spring explodes does this imposter’s spindly skeleton stand out against lush riot of leaf and bud, energy surrounding him but not inhabiting him. Even in death, his role plays on; his decaying body will shelter bird, bug and beast. And when at last he topples, saplings will grow fat on his loam. Saplings who, owing to fragile chance, landed here – not there.

The winter forest whispers these things to me, and speaks other things to other people.

Sometimes when I see the bare arms of trees in the evening
I think of men who have died without love,
Of desolation and space between branch and branch,
I think of immovable whiteness and lean coldness and fear
And the terrible longing of people stretched apart as these branches
And the cold space between.
I think of the vastness and courage between this step and that step …
– excerpt from “The Bare Arms of Trees,”
by poet John Tagliabue

Like a very wise counselor, nature gently holds up a mirror that allows us to unravel our own tangled thought patterns. Whatever symbolism I read into the trees is probably a code for something that was already on my mind, though I didn’t necessarily know it. Now I do.

The woods truly are “lovely, dark and deep,” (Robert Frost, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”). How sweet it is to enjoy the wild places of our region. And how good they are at hushing the often-needless hullabaloo in our knotty human heads.

May your 2013 be filled with sojourns into our spectacular Midwest winters, springs, summers and autumns. To me, that’s what “living the good life” is all about.

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