Loblolly and Light
After spending a few hours on the Big Thicket’s Pitcher Plant and Turkey Creek trails last Sunday, I nearly had regained the trailhead when I looked up, searching for bits of autumn color in the still mostly green trees.
Instead of color, a vision of what I first imagined to be an enormous orb-weaver’s web stopped me in my tracks. There was no larger-than-life spider lurking, of course. There was only a loblolly pine, and the sun, and a phenomenon I’d never before seen. Despite their apparently random distribution, the pine needles had transformed the light into a beautifully circular pattern; it was nature, not my camera, that had created the effect.
At the time, I didn’t think anything at all; I only stood, and wondered at the sight. Later, I remembered a favorite passage from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and realized I’d been granted my own vision of a tree with the lights in it.
One day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The lights of the fire abated, but I’m still spending the power.
Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had my whole life been a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only rarely seen the tree with the lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.
Comments always are welcome.
NOTE: I consulted Jim Ruebush, who taught physics for years, and here’s what he had to say about the effect: ““In the fully enlarged image, the pine needles radiate out in all directions. But, the only ones that reflect brightly to the camera direction are aligned circumfully (if that is not a word, it is now) to the sun. Their surfaces act like long narrow mirrors. Needles aligned any other way don’t reflect brightly to the camera.” Or, to the human eye!
Our colorful spring wildflowers are beginning to emerge: bluebonnets; pink evening primrose; purple vetch; yellow star grass.
Mixed with winter’s leftover browns, blacks, and grays, the colors shine. Still, green is a color of spring as well, and the season of greens clearly appealed to English poet Philip Larkin. His fondness for ‘ordinary people doing ordinary things’ sometimes echoes in his nature poetry. His poem entitled “The Trees” presents an ordinary spring doing ordinary things, and the effect is extraordinary.
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In full grown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say.
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
Comments always are welcome. For a recording of Philip Larkin reading his poem, click here.
The photos were taken at the Santa Fe, Texas Buddhist temple on March 16.
American Sycamore on the grounds of the Lost Maples Winery
In spring, people flocking to the Texas hill country in search of bluebonnets sometimes arrive too early or too late to see the bloom at its height. In certain years, the flowers are sparse at best, and the sense of human disappointment becomes palpable.
The same is true at Lost Maples State Natural Area, where the autumn color of Bigtooth maples draws visitors from across Texas. The New England-like foliage can be spectacular, but timing is everything. The need to reserve a date for a visit because of crowds — as many as 80,000 visitors in a six-week period — complicates things, since even the most glorious display of color can be swept away by overnight winds.
Still, if the maples have lost their color, other delights remain. During my recent visit, I especially enjoyed the American sycamore (Plantanus occidentalis). A tall tree, capable of attaining heights up to a hundred feet, the sycamore often is found along creek and river banks, as well as in floodplains. The most striking feature of the tree is its bark: white in younger trees, aging into a darker gray-brown, patchy, and peeling bark that resembles camouflage in the older.
Leaves of the sycamore and Bigtooth maple are similar in shape; size is often the quickest way to distinguish them. Here, a hollow log serves to display a collection of smaller maple leaves and an especially nice example from a sycamore.
Even the smallest sycamore sapling can produces glorious leaves, as this example from the Sabinal riverbank proves.
In Can Creek, dozens of sycamore leaves bobbed and floated; in the shallow waters, a few were caught and held by the creekbed’s pebbles and rocks, and glimmered in the late afternoon light.
Comments always are welcome.
On December 6, I dawdled my way to the Willow City Loop, north of Fredericksburg. Known primarily for its profusion of bluebonnets and other wildflowers in spring, it’s equally interesting in autumn and early winter. Rocks, cedars, and seedheads predominate; mistletoe and ball moss decorate bare limbs.
When I noticed the still-visible moon hanging in the sky, these lines from poet William Carlos Williams came to mind. His work titled “Winter Trees” easily divides into three haiku-like poems, as elegant as the trees they celebrate.
All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.
Comments always are welcome.