I awoke this morning to the happy chitter and chirp of birds busy before the sun had risen.
I had to remind myself it is February, not April. They sound as enraptured as we are, that the winter has been mild and their seeds and berries haven’t been buried beneath a hard snowpack, nor crisped by a deep frost.
Hopefully they are not fooled into mate choosing and nest building just yet, as we still have a little time to go.
It seems the precipitation that falls when we are delicately poised with one foot in another season is the most destructive kind. The snow that cloaks the trees can foist an unbearable weight on their delicate structure, unmasking the weak. Our woodland is filled with the spoils of storms from the last couple years, with some of the mightiest specimens shorn to the ground. We hike up and over their massive trunks awed by their stature and by the power behind the storm that toppled them.
Our October snow had the birches bent in half reminding me of a Robert Frost poem we memorized as children entitled, Birches:
‘When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust–
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.’
Mr Frost penned that in 1916. I love to think about connections we have through the ages. Some things don’t really change. He looked out his window one winter day and imagined a boy had swung on the tender limbs of the birches bending them to the ground. I look out the window on a winter day in 2012 and see the birches shrouded in an unbearable weight, and I think of this man who took up his pen 96 years ago and wrote a poem that children could relate to and would become beloved through the years.
I too am a lover of birches. Their unique white bark is a glorious sight in a snowy forest with the clear deep blue sky of a winter’s day caught up in its branches.
They thrive where the cold is deep and long and in Connecticut we are pressing its southern boundary.
I planted a grove in our yard because Robert Frost and Vermont winters made them a favorite early in my life. Before winter is past, the birches might be encased in ice, and if we’re lucky, we will hear them cast their icy shells upon the snow sounding like a million pieces of crystal shattering beneath their glorious white papered trunks.
It is after all still winter.