Since March I have spent almost every free moment with my trees – I’m blessed to have several acres of woods, and in the fourteen years that I’ve lived here I’ve learned a lot from them. They need tending and protection. They’ve cared for me, as well, nourishing my soul, inspiring words, and teaching me how to be calm, slow down and enjoy what nature has to offer on its time. They’ve provided shelter for birds and deer and bears, and, from my telling them, they know this is also for my pleasure and entertainment. These majestic trees inspired my first paid prose (Blue Whispers, see below, published in Big Sky Journal).
In this give and take, sacrifices have to be made, on both sides. Two projects took trees down on my hillside this spring, a sad thing but leaving my Montana sky bigger and safer. Some of these trees had to go to protect my home – ponderosas like to wave around in the wind and snap off in big chunks.
I miss them now along the path down the back of the house, throwing shade across the driveway and my bench in the woods. The cleanup was daunting.
It snowed at some point, softening the havoc. I burned for weeks making all the debris go away. Friends came and took the big pieces and I’m still hauling up the smaller chunks. Their sacrifice will be remembered in the coming winter months when several families will enjoy the warmth of their donation, and the winds won’t keep me awake at night in fear.
Before and after near the house:
In the second project my hillside was restored to its “intended state,” a cleaner ponderosa forest as it should be naturally, thinned by fires. This not only protects my home from a fire, but also spaces the larger trees to withstand a fire if it comes.
The forester who came out, courtesy of a state grant, did an awesome job (he also had a great dog, Huck, who had a hard hat for a water bowl). Josh left all the firs, as well as clumps of juniper, serviceberry, a few dead snags and some rotting logs for the critters and birds. This is an ongoing project with the same free workouts and recycling. This time Josh will take care of the burning and clean up, which leaves me time to salvage firewood.
I plan to spend many more years with my trees, sharing time, thoughts, and appreciation for where we get to reside. We’ll continue looking out for each other through wind, snow, fire seasons and those moonlit nights.
Whispers soft and blue stir the branches, pine needles brushing my face like an ethereal veil. Moonlight filters through a quilted overcast. The woods are cloaked in predawn darkness and I find my way in the tinted shadows by trillium lining the path, like luminous stars dropped from heaven. My feet kindle the fragrance that is the forest floor. There are no sounds save my muffled steps, perhaps the rustle of wings, and the breath of the trees. My heart knows this place. Like the trees, it guards its secrets, knows cold, shadows, and spring light, and finds comfort in warm, sheltered crevices under the canopy of protective arms.
An early morning zephyr stirs itself into a wind that scatters the patchwork of clouds, and the forest is sheeted in metallic light. Dark in their own shadows, like sentinels standing at attention, the trees are never caught unaware when the moon splashes silver over their crowns. Sharp-edged shadows now fall across my path, but I am safe in this place. Like the trees, I have learned what to fear and what to welcome, when to be watchful and still, when to grow and spread. They have taught me well when to stand firm in self-preservation, and when bending builds strength against expected storms.
As the moon winks out over the edge of the sky, silver points of light appear overhead, scattered in story-telling patterns across the black canvas. The trees are reabsorbed by inky blueness. There are few contrasts in the night woods, only the dark and the translucent light, nothing to distract me from the peace in this place. Like the trees, I find respite in the night forest and contentment in our shared solitude, with time to reflect on the essence of our alliance, the strength of our intransigence. The coming of dawn is whispered from tree to tree, and we wait together. When the colors of daylight come shafting through the shadows, there will be nothing to distort the clarity of the night, and my ideals will not be lost in the distractions of life, its harshness or its radiance.