(From the archives.)
"I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree," the poet Joyce Kilmer wrote just before he went off to serve in World War I, where his life ended. His poem lives on, and no one has ever better described the mystical hold of trees on the human psyche.
At all seasons of the year, trees have a kind of beauty and poetry and majesty of their own. In mid-winter, as at every season, they are the anchors of the garden.
Live oaks, of course, are much the same at all seasons. They never get fully undressed, although they do shed their leaves in spring as new leaves are being produced. In winter, their leaves offer shelter and sanctuary for birds who need a safe haven from predators or from the weather.
The same can be said of the magnolia trees, a favorite roosting place for many birds in winter.
The bottle tree never loses its leaves either - but I haven't noticed any birds roosting here.
The sycamore hangs on to a few of its leaves until they are finally displaced by new leaves in the spring. Every passing breeze brings a shower of sycamore seeds cascading down from the plentiful seed balls. These seeds are favorite winter foods of many birds including the goldfinches who spend hours each day picking them out.
The old apple tree, too, keeps a few of its leaves even as it prepares to open its swelling buds to the bees in late winter.
The corkscrew willow gives it all up, every leaf, and stands naked against the winter sky and the background of the neighbor's pine trees that tower over everything. The twisted limbs and twigs of the willow give some extra interest to the winter garden. Last summer, I learned that its leaves are hosts to some species of butterflies and moths. I knew there was a reason why I liked it.
This old crape myrtle was planted many years ago by birds, and it still feeds birds in winter with its seeds.
The upright limbs of the Shumard red oak seem to be lifted to the sky in praise and exultation.
None of these trees is old, as trees go. Except for the magnolia and the crape myrtle, we planted them all, but all of them, except for the willow, are now more than twenty years old. They have stood in our yard through drought and flood, heat and cold, and hurricane winds and they have been undaunted. Their leaves have shaken with our laughter, and in times of sadness, they have given me strength and consolation. They've always been there for me to lean on. They are friends to me.
I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as my trees.