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between-our-steps-04-05-17-doubleWith the snow almost gone, I have been noticing trees. I see rocks and bare fields, the first small tulip leaves, but it's trees that I am attending to.

On the road I drive to work, there is an old hollow trunk. When living, the tree would have been two feet thick. Now all that is left is the stub up to where the first branches would have been and a half circle of blackened wood.

Near it is a living tree of a similar size and height. Where the trunk splits, half the branches are gone leaving only two, both on one side, so that it looks as if the tree is leaning. It stood through the winds of this winter, but as unbalanced as it is, it looks ready to topple. Last week, a ladder leaned against it as if the caretaker of that land was stepping in before the tree fell on its own.

By the shore, two cedar trees succumbed to the wind. These toppled away from the water, pulling their roots out of the ground. Still green, for now, with dogwood shoots and dirt clinging to the spreading root structure, both lean on nearby trees. Soon they will be bare grey trunks and the complex pattern of the roots will be visible to all who pass.

Just down the road from our house stands a living tree torn by wind. Twenty-one years ago, a tornado ripped through our corner. As it took aim on our neighbour's barn, it whirled past this tree, tearing a branch and a strip off the trunk. The vertical scar remains, a reminder of that day's destruction.

Between that tree and our house, in the fence row that runs through the middle of our pasture, another tree was damaged by weather, but its story is less easy to read. The trunk is ten inches in diameter and rises straight up from the rock about six feet. Then it curves more than ninety degrees and heads toward the ground. Just before touching the grass, the trunk bends again in a long gentle arc until the tree reaches up toward the sky. At this point branches begin and as spring progresses, it will leaf out.

When I sit on the arc of this tree, near the ground, it sways. I lean back on the trunk, put my feet up, feel the rough bark. I try to imagine what weight of ice or snow pulled it toward the ground, and why it did not break. I feel the life and resilience that enabled it to bend and reach again for the sky.

Those who settled our farm planted an apple orchard around the house. These trees grew strong and bore excellent fruit. But they got old, and all but one became brittle and broke.

The one that remains stands in our front yard, not quite as tall as the house but with wide spreading branches. Each year, one large branch cracks in the wind and falls, tearing the trunk. At the base on one side, the wood is soft and crumbly. The tree still bears lots of early apples, but it will not last many more years. The local pileated woodpecker feasts on it regularly.

But it seems right to have apple trees around the house. We have replanted three near the one that remains.

I have also planted evergreens. I planted a clump on the north-west side of the house to help break the winds of winter. And there is a line along the lane to protect it from getting too drifted with snow. These now have to be trimmed because they went in before the hydro wire had to be replaced. That now runs right over top of three of the trees, so they get topped every year. I regret the stubby shape of the trees, but they still block the blowing snow and shelter us.

On the old lilacs by the house, also planted by the settlers, buds have been full and green, ready to leaf out for a month now. Only on the pussy willow that shades part of my garden have catkins bloomed. Sap is running strong in the maples, likely in the birches too. For leaves, we have to wait.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.


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