Little Joys—The Woods

Until we lived on a property with pine trees, I never appreciated the seasonality of evergreens. Our pines, rhododendrons, arborvitae, and spruce have growing seasons and seasons of dormancy, times when they are more aromatic and times when they drop their needles. We planted some trees in the last few years, and when I see their new height and bright, fresh growth, I feel proud, as if I had anything to do with it.

There was a moment in 2020 when our spruce trees started dropping their lower branches, so much so that it was alarming. Google said that trees will do that sometimes; if they have reason to believe it’s going to be a hard winter, they’ll reduce the things they carry to ensure their own survival. It was like the spruce trees were reading the universe for signs of global pandemic. I noticed it right around the time I was deciding to resign from my job to make space for recovery. Maybe we were sharing the same air, saying the same prayers. Maybe they had their own form of long-Covid.

Around the same time, our pine trees produced an exorbitant number of pine cones. I mentioned this to our arborist (the lady we bought our new trees from), and she said she’d noticed the same thing, and it usually meant we should expect a lot of snow. The pine trees know their lives are short, even though most live between 100 and 200 years. They know they are mortal. They will ensure the legacy of their species, even if it’s the last thing they do.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve taken every opportunity to take my work outdoors, onto our deck, where I can sit among the trees’ canopies. I watch the squirrels, because my dogs tell me to, and listen to songbirds, hawks, and crows call to one another from the trees. All around me, there are stalwart trees, holding the soil on the hill, casting down their leaves, interrupting the wind. I take great comfort in their constancy. The squirrels hustle from tree to tree, the birds flit between branches, there one day, gone the next, the deer haunt the underbrush so quietly you’re more likely to miss them than spy them. 

But everyday, the trees are there. It is a comfort to be surrounded by things that have existed before me, that are taller than me, stronger than me, and will last longer than me. The woods are models of perseverance and suffering. They drop what they can no longer carry. They are rooted in the earth and reaching towards the sky. They grow. They make room for others in their shade and shadows. Even in their dying, they accommodate the living, becoming a sanctuary for insects and fungi, squirrels, foxes, deer, coyotes, and mice.

In the morning when I rise, I look out our bedroom window to see if all these witnesses still keep watch, to see how we will together greet the day.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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