Sunday, December 2, 2012

Winter Trees

Driving around town this week, I couldn’t help but notice that this was the week that many of the trees shed their leaves. All the golden yellow, bright red and dusky brown colors have made their way to the ground. For the first time the bare branches strike their stark winter pose against the clear blue sun spackled sky. The colorful piles of leaves are gathered up in wind drifts sculpted in our yards by Mother Nature. We are in that sweet spot in time between the leaf fall and the time when all the homeowners rake them up into neat little piles to be carried off.

I think we are blessed here in the south to have a mixture of deciduous hardwoods and evergreens. In my winter travels up north when all I could see was the bare trunks of the hardwoods against the grey, snow laden skies, I really missed the contrast of the southern pines. Up north, especially once the Christmas decorations were down, things seemed to be lifeless and fallow. Now, I recognize that there are evergreens up north but they don’t seem to be many in the cities where I was working. Most of the urban trees up there tended to be hardwoods. I remember one small group of pine trees that were planted around the hotel where I stayed in Ann Arbor, MI. That grove seemed really out of place, but I was glad to see it every week decorated by the soft snow of the winter. There was one special cheerful tree that was right outside between the back door and the space where I parked my car. During the winter months it was dark when I left for work and dark when I came back. But, there was that pretty tree, only about 7 feet tall, gleaming in the lights from the hotel and the parking lot. The snow reflected the colors of the lights and it became my own private Christmas tree all that winter.

Left: My Ann Arbor Christmas Tree! Down in Florida where I grew up, the mixture was more evergreen than hardwood with a sprinkling of palm trees in the mix. Lining the property boundary between our house and our neighbor’s was a line of tall palm trees. They were about 75 feet tall and I used to love lying in the back yard and watching their fronds blow around in the wind. When the summer breezes gave over to the winter winds, you could hear the rustling of the fronds all day long. Growing up, that was one of winter’s sounds to me. Things did not change all that much when winter came once the few leaves were raked up. I learned early on that hardwood leaves were easier to rake than pine needles. Yes, pines shed up to a quarter of their needles each fall.

The trees here in Columbia are nearly a 50-50 mixture of evergreens and hardwoods and so is my neighborhood. Part of the neighborhood was an old slash pine forest and my yard is almost entirely pine, so two or three times each fall, the yard has to get a good raking. We have added some deciduous trees to the mix so there are some leaves in the raking mix these days. I think one more raking this fall will just about do it for the yard work until spring.

My meteorologist friends tell me that this winter is shaping up to be cooler and wetter than normal. I certainly hope so; we didn’t have much of a winter last year. Mother Nature, can I put in my request now, a snow shower or two please, with fluffy snow, quick melting with no power failures and no ice please. We’ll take our winter “neat!” Oh MY!

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