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When Beauty Breaks

This morning I walked into the artwork of rain and snow turned to ice. A soft tinkling of rainy snow added soprano overtones to my crunching as Oliver and I walked in the devastating beauty of a Silver Thaw. I stopped at the red birch tree, a tree we loaded into the pickup and planted as a seven-foot babe about 15 years ago. Four years ago the birch was big enough to support a wooden swing, which you can barely see there, behind the ice covered twiggy ends below. I knelt down by the hellebore, an early pink flowering perennial symbolizing serenity, tranquility and peace. Quietly I sent out well-wishings of sorts, hope that curly grass, daffodils, barberry, St. John's Wort, forsythia, oaks and maples and birches and willows, might hold steady in this quiet, quiet, beautiful, frozen storm.

I realize plants are mostly unloved things--along with spiders and worms, marshes and swales. Mostly they are unloved because they are not seen for what they are.

What they are is places where God has left fingerprints, clues as to what it looks like for God to fill the universe with a loving Presence in a never ending cycle where life emerges out of death, which eventually dies and makes room for new life.

Which is maybe how I should feel about the red birch tree that fatally, I fear, split this afternoon under the weight of all that ice. The central bough broke and in the fall took out another primary bough. I cried. Of course I did. That birch was the youngster in a handful of trees I call friends at Fern Creek. They teach me about generosity. Yes, yes--they store carbon dioxide and give us oxygen, and shade in summer. But they also extend hospitality to other mostly unloved things--mistletoe, moss, and Old Man's Beard. Ants, squirrels and birds. After they die fungi take up residence and break down their richness into something useful again, unless we harvest the wood first for our own homes or for paper or for fuel to burn to keep us warm on days like today.

A tree lives and dies so very graciously. Beauty breaking, and in the breaking making room for something new.

I am reminded of the final lines of a Mary Oliver poem about a hungry fox and terrified mice:

Maker of All things, Even Healings

let me abide in Your shadow--

let me hold on

to the edge of Your robe

as You determine

what you must let be lost

and what will be saved.


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