Winter in the Midwest — When Trees Bare Their Souls

Deciduous trees in upper Midwest in winter, without leaves standing in snow with bright blue sky. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Photo by Barbara Newhall

Note to Readers: This post is the 400th essay I’ve posted on my website since I began blogging seven years ago. There’s lots of interesting old stuff to read. You can explore it by clicking on the Don’t Miss images in the column to your right, or by diving into the category archives at the top of the page. Have fun!

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

My Midwestern gardener friend looks out on her yard and the surrounding woods these days and finds it all a bit depressing. Depressing — her word, not mine. She lives there year-round, so she’s entitled to feel bummed out by skies that darken at 4 p.m. and trees stripped of all signs of life.

Me, I swoop in from a 60-degree, greened-up winter in California and thrill at the sight of naked limbs and twigs. There they are, graceful stands of deciduous elm, oak, birch and maple, showing off their true selves.

A tree with white trunk and peeling bark in winter snow. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Photo by Barbara Newhall

My trusty point-and-shoot caught some of those trees on a gloriously sunny winter afternoon last month. Too bad I can’t ID them. They had no leaves on the day I clumped around in the snow to snap their portraits. And I’m not enough of a naturalist to ID them by their growth habits. (If you can, let me know.)

Meanwhile, can trees bare their souls? Do they have souls? Does anybody?

They — and we — seem so full of heart and will and intention that I want to say, yes, there is such a thing as soul. But my reductionist scientist friends would slap my hands and say, “Get real. Humans are hard-wired to see pattern and cause-and-effect in the things around them; it’s an evolutionary survival thing. A tree is just a tree. A person is just a person.”

Why then did I succumb to the urge to don a pair of borrowed boots and tromp around in the snow on a below-freezing day, just to be out there in the middle of all that woodsy beauty? Was that a survival thing, too?

Tree shadows fall across the snow in a upper Midwestern woods in February. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Photo by Barbara Newhall

Tree bark with green lichen in winter. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Photo by Barbara Newhall

More gardens at “A Midwestern Flower Garden — Beautifully Dead in the Dead of Winter.” Also, “Look What Happened in My Front Yard Over the Weekend.”

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