Tag Archives: New England

The Resilience of Pines

By Corinne H. Smith

“I noticed a week or two ago that one of my white pines, some six feet high with a thick top, was bent under a great burden of very moist snow, almost to the point of breaking, so that an ounce more of weight would surely have broken it. As I was confined to the house by sickness, and the tree had already been four or five days in that position, I despaired of its ever recovering itself; but, greatly to my surprise, when, a few days after, the snow had melted off, I saw the tree almost perfectly upright again. It is evident that trees will bear to be bent by this cause and at this season much more than by the hand of man. Probably the less harm is done in the first place by the weight being so gradually applied, and perhaps the tree is better able to bear it at this season of the year.” ~ Thoreau’s journal, January 3, 1861

I thought of Thoreau’s description of pine resilience when nine inches of wet snow fell on our region last week. All of our trees were quickly and thickly outlined in white. But in instances like this one, our backyard white pine is always the tree most affected. Normally its lowest branch reaches straight outward or lifts itself slightly skyward, from four feet up. After the storm, its farthest-most needles touched the ground.

pine1

With the forecast of warmer temperatures, I knew the snowy covering wouldn’t last long. I didn’t despair of the white pine’s fate, as Thoreau did. Sure enough, within 48 hours, the surface snow had melted and slid off every branch. The tree was back to normal, at least in outward appearance.

pine2

Seeing this simple process: Is it any wonder that Henry Thoreau used examples from nature as metaphors for human behavior? In challenging times, can’t we exhibit as much resilience as a pine tree once covered in snow?

Now, of course, I’ve seen myriad trees damaged by powerful hurricanes and ice storms. I’m sure many in New England were hurt badly with the weight of the snows of this season. And yes, under extreme circumstances, both trees and people will break.

But isn’t it more likely that both will bend and bounce back? I think so. I think we can learn something of ourselves from the pines. Some folks are fond of saying, “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.” The flexibility of the pines illustrates this principle. Just let that snow slide away in its time, and then spring back.

Or forward. Ah, this leads us to another metaphor … and just in time!

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Filed under General, Henry David Thoreau, Living Deliberately, Nature, The Roost, Thoreau Quote

Blue Sign

“We go listening for bluebirds, but only hear crows and chickadees.” Journal, 3/1/55

The light suggests it. It peers in-house before 6:00 a.m., and even amid the ongoing cold, it has crusted the snowbanks that angle toward the south. And also even as more snow filters in, the drifts have begun to shrink. The growing light is sublime. Also literally, as the shrinkage of snow comes of sublimation.

Like Henry Thoreau, I think there must be bluebirds about. And I know where to look. Back in January, when our winter looked to be a humdrum sort of thin cover and open fields, I noticed that an old relic apple tree on one of my walking routes flashed often with chips of blue color. A whole crew of bluebirds – what is the word for a gathering of bluebirds? An azure of birds? A sky of them? – favored this dense, spiky tree. Clearly, they were intent on weathering and wintering here.

Eastern Bluebird

And a quick trip to my bird book showed a sliver of purple riding the nearby coast, sign of possible year-round range, even as the rest of northern New England is usually summer range only.

What about now, I wondered. Were the bluebirds, after this month of snowy onslaught, still here? Or had they, like many of us, been “innived?”

I went to look, and there along the border of snowfield and hard by an old track that promises sometime a walk into the woods, they were. Even more blue against the always white of the day. Leave aside the sobering thought that these bluebirds may winter here now because warming is on the rise. Today they are blue relief against the deep white.

Puffed against the Cold

Puffed against the Cold

I like the little riot of chickadees always at the birdfeeder, and surely the crows are our most talkative neighbor. But the bluebird’s a sign I’m happy to go walking and listening for. Welcome to March.

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Filed under Environment, General, Henry David Thoreau, Literature, Living Deliberately, Nature, The Roost, Thoreau Quote

Le Grand Chat

Though far from Henry’s or our own woods, we keep seeing or hearing things or moments that nonetheless summon him to mind. The most recent is a reported sighting on the outskirts of Paris. First tabbed as a tiger on the loose (from where seemed uncertain), the Paris cat has now been downgraded to unknown feline, even as any number of gendarmes continue to search for him/her.

Still, a grainy photo and clear set of prints suggest something beyond an overweight tabby – estimates of the cat’s size, based on its tracks, range between 100 and 150 pounds. Enough cat to get your attention, bien sûr.

This photo provided by the town council of Montévrain on Thursday shows what was initially described as a tiger. Credit via Associated Press

Thoreau, of course, lived in a landscape shorn of its large carnivores, but, as his writing make clear, he was an avid tracker of wildlife. And his readings of these signs fired his imagination; they helped him see and write about a narrative world.

An American, who when home follows closely the reported tracks and resurgence of our native lions, I naturally have been keeping track of the Paris cat. My native New England is rife with lion-rumor these days, and I figure to see one there during my lifetime. The suburbs of Paris are older ground, however, and so this visit from the wild has had people and news outlets agog – schools with armed guards, people told to stay indoors, car doors locked, various experts quoted.

And the course of response has taken a predictable route too. Something akin to panic has morphed into brow-raised cynicism even as the cat has been assigned more usual proportions.

But the avid attention speaks also of a hunger Henry Thoreau knew too – the wild is a tonic and a hope – an I’m guessing that any number of us following the story hope the Paris cat will vanish into the countryside, where we will imagine he lives on, even as we await his next visit.

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Filed under Environment, General, Henry David Thoreau, News and Events, The Roost