Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
- Joyce Kilmer
My wife loves trees.
Oddly enough, she loves them most especially in the winter, when others take them for granted, thinking they're mere dark, empty shells of their best selves.
It's not that she ignores their beauty throughout the other seasons. She appreciates them during those months as well.
In the Spring, when their branches are full of small, bright green or red buds, each one is a promise that, after a long, harsh, Western New York winter, summer is on its way, if only we be patient.
And Summer? That's when, fully leafed out, the trees in our neighborhood create a palette of changing tones of green that sway in the wind and shade our house, keeping the heat of the day at bay.
Fall, of course, is when most people notice the trees around them. That's when shorter days and cool nights call on trees to dress in their best finery. This is the season when people ("leaf peepers") drive for miles to see them at their peak of color. We did that ourselves a few years back—a drive up and down New England's mountains that made the wife carsick, but led to some amazing sights.
But, in the end, it's the winter version of trees that she prefers. As she explains it, it's because this is when they truly reveal themselves.
In winter they stand naked, shivering in the wind, shorn of their cloak of leaves, and showing us their bones, their complex shapes. It's then that each tree stands alone, no longer lost in the crowd, its bare branches reaching up and out to the sky.
I share her love of trees, to the extent that, when asked what I wanted for my birthday, I didn't hesitate to say, "A tree!".
It was because at the time I was housebound due to a serious illness, and spent much of my time staring out into our yard, where birds gathered at the feeder and squirrels and chipmunks fought over the spilled seed beneath it.
And, so, she bought me one.
It was a swamp white oak, recommended by Josh Davis, our local tree whisperer, who said because of the wet, clay soil in our side yard, it was the best species to thrive in the place we chose. I watched from a chair as his crew dug a deep hole, and he used a large handcart to set the young, 8 foot tall tree into its new home.
As we watched them work my wife and I could only imagine what our neighbors must be thinking. What in hell were the Henrys doing bringing another tree into a yard already full of them?
And it's true, not only is our house surrounded on three sides by dozens of trees, it's situated on "Scattertree Lane"!
I told her I suspected some might think we were crazy, that we were, in effect, "Carrying Coals to Newcastle."
When I mentioned this to a friend he claimed not to have heard of the expression. I explained that Newcastle was once the center of England's coal mining industry, so it would have been a fool's errand for anyone to carry coal there.
Now, if that makes fools of us, so be it because that young oak tree? It has tripled in size and even now, in winter, is a thing of beauty.