Trees


Oak boughs

All semester, I’ve been eyeing a cantaloupe-sized knothole in one of the sprawling oak trees on the quad at Framingham State. The fifth floor of Hemenway Labs provides an eye-level view of this hole, and I keep hoping to see an owl, raccoon, or other critter peering out of it, as it looks like a perfect animal den.

Gray squirrel in oak tree

Good real estate doesn’t stay empty for long. On Thursday, I watched as first one and then two gray squirrels carried dead oak leaves into this hole, presumably making a nest for the winter. Gray squirrels, I read, often construct multiple nests in their home territory, typically using them as solitary shelter but sometimes sharing a den in cold weather. Apparently even squirrels appreciate cozy companionship when the temperatures drop.

Norway maple gleaming golden

The neighborhood sugar maples have largely lost their reddish orange leaves, but the Japanese maple in our front yard has burst into flame, and the Norway maples in our backyard are glowing golden against a backdrop of pine boughs. In autumn, trees bloom and ripen like flowers in a well-planned garden, with each species turning in turn.

Willow tree in bloom

Only after spring arrives and the trees burst into flower do I realize how much of the winter I’ve spent looking down. In winter, I trudge around in a bulky coat, hat, and scarf; on the coldest days, I top it all with a hood. Thus bundled, I keep my eyes down, my attention focused underfoot on the treachery of ice and snow. Like a mummy, my view of the world in winter is just a slit through swaddles.

Oak catkins and leaves

Spring sets my feet free in sandals, the sidewalks finally clear underfoot. In spring, you appreciate anew the miracle it is to walk the earth. In the spring, you don’t have to watch every step; in spring, your whole body feels as light as shirtsleeves. Walking at the end of an interminable winter feels like freedom, your ankles liberated from boots and the sinew-testing challenge of knee-deep snow drifts.

Dogwood flowers

Come summer, after the trees have finished leafing, their crowns will contain my view like a cap and I’ll look to the ground once again, searching for flowers and ground-creeping plants. But in early spring, the world’s inverted, with an ephemeral fury of flowers high overhead: blooms against blue.

Japanese maple on foggy day

The Japanese maple in our front yard is currently at the peak of its autumn color…but whereas last year this tree caught fire on a brilliantly sunny day, this year, it turned red beneath a veil of November fog. Sometimes maples erupt in a flash of red brilliance, and other times they smolder in a smudge of subtle color.

This is my Day Twelve contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Crabapples

Yesterday I had a spare half hour between my last class at Curry College and a Friday afternoon meeting in Boston: a spare half hour I should have spent grading papers. But it was a glorious fall day–sunny and unseasonably warm, shirtsleeves-and-sandals weather–and I knew I’d hate myself if I spent the whole day inside. There will be plenty of time to catch up with grading, I told myself, when the weather’s cold and dismal.

Green Dot trail

It had been years since I’d gone walking at the Blue Hills, which are just down the street from Curry College. Years ago when my then-husband and I rented a house in nearby Randolph, MA, I frequently walked Reggie at the Blue Hills: those were the days when Reggie was young and full of energy, and seemingly no amount of walking could tire him. That was, in other words, a literal lifetime ago, when I was still married to my first husband and Reggie was still alive.

Nest box

Autumn is a naturally retrospective time: seeing so many living things wending their way to their eventual demise naturally gets you thinking about past autumns and the things you’ve lost in the interim. Autumn is a naturally retrospective time that sometimes leads you to wonder how many more seasons you have in you and what, exactly, it is you’re doing with your life in the meantime.

Distant color

But yesterday, as I said, was perfect walking weather: no ghosts of autumns past could distract me from that. I pass the parking lot for the Blue Hills’ Trailside Museum every time I drive to or from Curry, and usually I don’t have time to stop, much less go walking: usually I’m hurrying to campus to teach or hurrying home to tackle an endless to-do list: so many papers, and so little time. An adjunct’s work is never done, so I always feel a bit wistful when I pass by the Blue Hills, remembering past walks there and wondering when I might find a spare half hour to return.

Autumn landscape

Yesterday was my chance, and I took it. I didn’t have a map and couldn’t remember exactly where the Green Dot trail from the Trailside Museum’s parking lot goes; I just set an alarm on my phone to tell me when I’d need to turn back to my car, and I let my feet lead me where they would. Where I found myself, I figured out later, was the Carberry Path, a side trail that dead-ends at the edge of the Blue Hills’ property…but before I found myself facing a No Trespassing sign that turned me back toward my car just before my alarm did, I spent a short but wonderful while in a fall field reigned over by a regal old hickory glowing gold in the afternoon sun.

Golden hickory

Furry and fiery

One week after the Japanese maple in our front yard lit up like a red torch, I shot this close-up of a Japanese maple at Boston College, its leaves burning orange rather than red. In autumn, it’s best to stay on the alert, as you never know when the trees around you will catch fire.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday them, Fiery, as well as my Day 22 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Japanese maple foliage

When I got home from teaching today, J was standing at the kitchen counter, working at his laptop. “The tree out front is on fire,” he said, and I immediately knew what he was referring to.

Arborvitae, oak, maple

In one corner of our front yard, we have a Japanese maple that is perfectly lovely all year round, its lacy green leaves veined with red. But every autumn—and seemingly overnight—this perfectly lovely tree erupts into brilliant blood-red foliage that seems to carry its own inner illumination, as if someone had flipped it on with a switch. Forget about walking the earth in search of Annie Dillard’s tree with the lights in it: all you need as proof of a benevolent Universe is one glimpse of a Japanese maple on fire.

Japanese maple

When the Japanese maple in our front yard is “on,” it seems to emit its own light, like a red lantern. Rationally I know the crimson glow that filters through the window and seeps between the blind-slats is sunlight diffused through countless red leaves, but part of me expects to see a power cord stretched from tree trunk to electrical outlet to power a tree as bright and radiant as a neon tube.

When I walk into my soothing green-tiled bathroom on Fire Days, I can see the maple-glow before I see the tree itself outside my window. As I sit here writing these pages in front-facing bedroom, the white walls are tinted with a blush of red, and the forest-green blinds seem entirely incapable of keeping red out, for it flames and trickles between every slat.

Japanese maple samaras

When I came home from teaching today, J was there in the kitchen to inform me the tree out front was on fire, a camera sitting on the counter beside him. Fire Day is a regular fixture of every autumn: we haven’t had an autumn yet where the Japanese maple in our front yard hasn’t brilliantly turned. But Fire Day is a fleeting festival: soon enough the leaves that are lit today will lose their electricity, their power fading until they crumple and blow away. If you want pictures of a tree on fire, you have to move fast before the brisk breeze quenches its light and extinguishes its flame for another year.

This is my Day 4 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

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