Originally published Winter 2020
I went for a walk on the Trinity Trails last week, something I've enjoyed on more than one occasion recently, what with the unseasonably warm January we are having in Texas. Just wait, it will be 50 tomorrow. I've wanted to move more in the new year, not in the resolution-ist sense, but in the long-term, "I need my body to be healthy and last a while" sense.
It was an incredibly still evening (which meant my allergies were less likely to be bothered, although I'm fairly certain I popped an Allegra to be sure), and as I passed by one of the small retention ponds set back from the river, I noticed the reflection of the black branches of the winter trees, some peppered with leftover pecan husks and some thinly sprawling out like a complex road map. The water was perfectly still, the pond a flawless mirror for these dormant trees.
I would always have called winter trees "dead" before, perhaps because the phrase "dead of winter" is a phrase people elsewhere use to describe this season but one we only see represented by trees, not snow and freezing temperatures. But just like I welcome fall with open arms, I had welcomed the winter equinox with equal zeal.
And for the first time, I appreciated the trees for their beauty, JUST AS THEY ARE RIGHT NOW. Not lush green canopies, but a fragile matrix of wooden veins and capillaries, exposed to the elements until their rebirth in spring.
The night after my walk, my husband and I went to eat right across the river. As we walked through the parking lot, I stopped short and looked up at the orange glow of the sunset, contrasted only by the line of barren oak trees stretched out in front of it. I wanted to take a photo, but felt silly and let the moment pass.
I am starting to feel a little clairvoyant with the amount of times I've thought about something recently and then read virtually the exact same description or passage or idea in a book I'm reading. That night, I got in bed early to start reading from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, required reading for any aspiring author. I've been reading this at night when I want to go to bed inspired and dream of my name in print.
Anne has been a delight. She makes me laugh and gives me a good dose of reality about what it's like to pursue writing beyond just a hobby. I bought the book years ago and only recently cracked the yellowing pages. I've learned so much, but the passage I read the other night had me convinced she time traveled to last week, read my mind, and then wrote these words in 2005 for my future self to find.
The chapter started with Anne's recounting of her volunteering days at a convalescent home. It resonated immediately because I had just captured a story for the book about a childhood memory, a nursing home visit with my grandmother. Not unlike Anne, I was leery of the sights and smells, and even had a panicked moment when a special needs woman latched onto my arm, calling out Cindy which confused me even more. But what stuck out to me is the fact that my grandmother dutifully played piano for their church service each week and now I dutifully deliver meals to my elderly Meals on Wheels clients. It was a neat connection with a favorite author, but the passage I read next nearly floored me.
Prompted by a friend to overcome her unease with the seniors, she describes learning to appreciate them as ones “to be loved unconditionally, like trees in the winter". Whether it’s a deeper respect for my clients or a deeper respect for each new season in sobriety, I look forward to the transformation speaking to me through nature.
"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer." -Albert Camus