May 12, 2016: Budburst
After a few cool and cloudy days we have had three days of warmth and sunshine: highs first in the 60s, then the 70s, and today close to 80. Over the course of these three days I have watched the buds that first split open five days ago, on Saturday, explode into leaf. I am a little chagrined to acknowledge to myself that I, for all my love of the natural world and time whiled away in the woods, have never truly watched what happens when a maple tree leafs out. I always imagined that each bud would produce a single leaf. Far from it! From each bud comes an emerald starburst. When still small, in its second or third day out from the bud casing, a whole cluster of miniature leaves, arrayed like the petals of a flower, about an inch across, form a concave cup-like shape. How many leaves form each cluster? I can’t even tell yet–maybe five or six. At the end of each twig sprouts this brilliantly green cluster, each overlapping petal veined and crinkled, easily as beautiful as any flower I have ever seen, especially backlit by the sun against the still mostly brown-and-gray landscape of the woods.
What a reward for being in the tree every day! Each one is a marvel, and I am inspired to learn more about this remarkable transformation. The rate of growth, day by day, is impressive. How much pent up mineral-laden sap is transformed into all this extruding green flesh? It inspires me to learn more about it. I will pull a few books off the shelves and see what I can learn.
In the meantime, I scramble around the branches, examining now this one and now that one. Through the past month of tree-meandering, I had no real destination, no particular thing to look at; I scrambled for the joy of it, climbing and leaping from trunk to trunk, exploring the space itself and the irregularly arrayed supports it offered. I might go back and forth between the high prayer flags on one trunk of the tree and the low prayer flags on the other trunk. And after all that aimless joy, joy in the pure aimlessness of it, now it is wonderful to have things to look at again.
And the horizon! When I point the camera out through the branches to the far hills, catching up other trees and their branches on the way, all these tiny green glimmers, like millions of tiny shards of broken bottle glass, catch the light in front of the soft hillsides. Slowly the world gets soft and luminous again, though we will have cold and dark days still.
Two days ago, after climbing in the first day of warmth and sunshine, while taking a tour of the rare books collection and Book Arts Workshop at Dartmouth–in fact while walking between them–I found myself searching my mind for a vocabulary for this new way air feels on skin in spring. “Soft” is the anchor word. A whole set of tactile qualities are invoked climbing shirtless in this new sunlight of another season. Inviting. Voluptuous. Lush. Sensuous.
It would not be so intense, this experience, if it did not follow snow and ice and wind and bitter cold; and the endless damp chill of March and April and May.
So beautiful a gift after a winter of climbing. Even trees reward attentiveness.