THE VIEW FROM FOURTEEN DEGREES
I walked up through the pasture this afternoon past the cows slowly accreting snow sifting down from a pewter sky. Cowbergs, they struggled to their feet from a heaped, hulked snooze as I passed, hoping for a treat. On cold days I often hand-feed them rolls and molasses. They love sweet, cheap white hamburger buns best of all.
But I was on the way to my tree, so threw a leg over the board fence to head up into the woods. And there it was: The big oak I’m observing as a Bullard Fellow this year at the Harvard Forest, wearing its first snow of 2015. Now well into its 100th winter, it was flocked with white, the ridges of its bark filling with snow. At the base of its trunk, the deep clefts between the flares of its buttressed base sheltered oak leaves still dry and snug as a nest. A bit of tender, green fern even persisted deep in a hollow at its roots. I was amazed this tender plant of spring and summer survived in a sheltering nook of my tree, even as winter deepens. How many other plants and animals does it succor in the winter cold?
The woods were the quietest I’ve heard them this winter. Snow stooped the young hemlocks, and piled up on frozen mushrooms sticking out stiff as shelves from the trunks of paper birch.
I thought as I walked about the anchor of landscape; how a single tree, or view, can be the hub of the wheel of our days. I’ve known this oak in every season now. Amid black flies and ticks; ice pellets and snow; the burning stars of winter nights; and the soft, tender full leaves of early June. On this, the first snow of the New Year, this tree was what I wanted to see.
The sun shone like a full moon through thick clouds, lighting snowflakes sailing across its beam. By afternoon, tender blue began to show amid the grey; the winter storm was clearing. My boots squeaked in the cold as I headed back through the winter woods, across the pasture. Today the high temperature was 14 degrees, and tonight will be colder. Strong stuff for a denizen of Seattle, where winter means rainy and 40. Here, my strategy is to wear everything I own, all at once.
Back at the farmhouse where I am living this year, the warm glow of the windows burned yellow. Evening was already edging in from the forest, which always darkens before the sky.
It was time to get some treats for the cows.