It was a week of many snows. Flurries, gusts, light snowfalls of a few inches. One afternoon a few flakes dropping from dark clouds, the next morning just enough on the ground to require boots, and more falling thickly. I climb at odd times, usually briefly, tucking the tree into gaps in my schedule. Snow becomes customary; cold becomes familiar. Boots and snow pants are useful, since climbing with only one arm you end up getting up onto branches with a knee, instead of being able to pull yourself up properly with two hands onto your feet. I am still not climbing high, because of my injured shoulder. Just into the lower branches. They are brisk climbs, and pleasant, but also routine.
And then one evening it isn’t. There is nothing unusual about the day. Several inches of snow have fallen and piled up on everything. I go out in the near-dark, and even just walking up the lawn everything feels different. There is that bluish-dark light of deep winter, though it is only early December. The world is silent, and vast. There is a sense of presence in the woods, the orchard, the open meadow. Shriveled plant stems are just visible in the field. And when I climb the ladder and enter the treehouse the act feels full of meaning. Stepping from the treehouse into the branches feels sacred. As though I am entering a temple.
I didn’t expect this; I wasn’t looking for it. I thought this would be another routine climb. A few branches up, look out across the lawn, climb back down, and head for the house. Back to making dinner, or whatever was next in my day. Most climbs are like that.
But instead, every curve of branch and mound of snow feels fraught with significance. With every movement of my body I feel like I am participating in a ritual, or a solemn dance.
As I climb, I brush each new branch free of snow with a gloved hand, and I find myself pausing in mid-motion. The snow is capped three or four inches high along each limb. I sweep, and the snow cascades down alongside the trunk and disappears below me. The branch is laid bare. I can see the corrugated patterns of bark, set off by the snow still packed into its crevices. I climb onto this branch and brush the snow off the next, examining the patterns of snow and bark.
I would like to climb the whole tree this way, but I have promised myself not to do so until I can use both hands again. So I content myself with spending some time here, fifteen or twenty feet off the ground, savoring a world made strange. I thank the tree and the night, lower myself back down the few branches into the treehouse, and head for the lights of the front porch.