Trees With Leaves

Tree With Leaves

Snow blankets Minnesota right now at the end of January, and some more is on the way. According to the locals, this has been an incredibly mild winter. I traveled north of the Twin Cities last weekend and overheard two guys talking about how the snowmobile season just hasn’t happened this year. The first snow that stuck for the duration fell the day after Christmas. Ice fishermen are up in arms over the thin ice – they can’t even drive out onto the lakes.

Wait, what? Yeah, ice fishing's still a very foreign concept to this desert rat. In my estimation, it’s NEVER safe to drive out onto a frozen body of water. I’ve seen Grumpy Old Men, and I’ve seen pictures of dozens of vehicles parked out on some lake with the fishermen all in their shanties, or full on luxury cabins on skids replete with bunks and couches. Ice fishing is a sub-culture. Question: does not all that weight from vehicles add up to put incredible strain on the ice, no matter how thick? Yes, I think it does. That's settled, now let's move on.

As Garrison would say, "It’s been a mild winter so far in Minnesota." But "mild" is a relative term. My relatives here use it to mean that this winter is nothing compared to most in recent memory. I hear the term "mild winter" and think of the few times it never got below freezing in Tucson when I lived there. A hard winter was the time a couple of years ago when it froze hard two nights in a row in February, and the tall prickly pear cacti that grew in peoples' yards around town lost branches because of the freeze. "Mild" depends on your frame of reference. This is the most amazing winter I've ever been through, because it hasn't been above freezing in about six weeks, it actually went sub-zero, (my first time that cold), and there's snow everywhere and it doesn't melt. It's not mild to me at all.

As I wander around, some things about Minnesota jump out at me and strike me as uniquely interesting or exciting. Like the time we drove up to the family farm about an hour north of Minneapolis and saw several bald eagles, a few swans on a pond, a flock of red-winged blackbirds flushed from a bramble by the side of the road, and a nesting pair of sandhill cranes in the field behind the farm house.1 All this on a splendid summer day in June. You just don't see that kind of variety on a daily basis just anywhere. 

Day, MN - The Family Farm, July 2015

Wandering around this winter, I've been paying attention to trees. When we got to Minnesota last May, the green of the trees and the lawns was overpowering and ubiquitous. You couldn't escape. It was the dominant term you would use to describe the landscape:

"What's Minnesota look like?" was a question I was often asked by friends and family in the Southwest, and I would say "Green", and feel as though I'd done a superlative job of explaining exactly what I was seeing. And the most incredible thing for me to come to terms with was that all this green was produced for the most part without sprinkler systems. Our house, with its vibrant green lawn and towering maple and ash trees, doesn't have any irrigation set up at all. The water comes from rain. Unbelievable but true.

So this winter I'm looking at trees and remembering that green first summer in Minnesota, (only about six months ago), and I can't help but get a little wistful, although the bare birch trees with their white bark and dark rings do provide nice punctuation against the solid white background of snow. But I've been paying special attention to a few trees that look quite different from the winter norm. These trees are holding on to their summer foliage, even though it's brown and crumbles at a touch. There's something about that foliage that's like a museum; history is preserved in those leaves like old, yellowed documents. Summer's green, now faded and withered - such a metaphor for life. I find these trees to be incredibly poignant, and always pay silent tribute to them as I pass by. I remember last summer, our move, our dog now laid to rest. I remember the heat of the days and the softness of the nights, the stars arcing overhead and the storms that rumbled and cascaded through the night.

Weather Report I
Winter gray and falling rain
We'll see summer come again
Darkness falls and seasons change
(Gonna happen every time)
Same old friends, the wind and rain
(We'll see summer by and by)
Winter gray and falling rain
(Summers fade and roses die)
We'll see summer come again
(Like a song that's born to soar the sky)
 by Bob Weir & Eric Anderson


1. Capitalization of bird names: (Accessed Jan. 27, 2016.)
See also International Ornithology Congress for spelling and capitalization of bird names used in an ornithological context: (Accessed Jan. 27, 2016.)