Winter’s last sunrise

I can’t peel myself away from the window over the kitchen sink. The vermillion sun is climbing over the horizon, just beyond the stand of trees that makes up our backyard, and I am mesmerized.

For all my longing for spring—for vibrant green to fill my field of view—I am realizing just now that it will ruin this particular scene. The branches, now spindly and bare, have been dutifully serving as a wintry backdrop to the dramatic dives of birds of prey and the patriotic parades of cardinals and blue jays. They are a man leading a ballet dancer across the floor, a set of arms to frame the season’s true beauty. And I am regretful now that I haven’t appreciated them more.

Today, as the sun continues to crest their branches, up and up, I see their beauty in the new light. The tree limbs’ gnarly knots and turns offset the brilliant blue sky, making it more beautiful by contrast. They are a hundred picture frames, needless of the woodworker’s help.

The cast of winter wonders is lusher than I realized before, as I take it in now. There is the towering tulip poplar with a bulbous shape sprouting where its trunk splits into two branches at the top. For months this winter, I mistook that bulge for a wise owl staring back at me until, one day, I grabbed binoculars for a closer look. It was just my imagination, shaping Christopher-Robbins tales out of the bare branches.

This backyard forest is primarily a playground, not for me, but created by and for the squirrels that sprint unencumbered across its limbs. Many of the shorter oaks began their upward journeys when one of the bushy-tailed hoarders plunged an acorn or three into the still workable soils. Come summer, I will shake my fist at the 6-inch oak sprouts that will be near-impossible to uproot before they ruin the ivy-covered look of that backyard slope. (It is one of my many battles with the determined critters, not to mention the one with the squirrel whose favorite acorn storehouse is my attic.)

But, in contrast to the tall- and mid-sized trees that seem to put all their growing efforts into thick trunks, racing toward the sun, there is the dogwood. My favorite kitchen window tree, by far. The graceful slopes of her branches are a well-appointed chandelier, waiting to woo me anew when the tips burst into white flames come spring.

Its larger-than-life blooms will leave me forgetful of the brewing coffee and the hungry children, if only for a moment. I will stare longingly from that kitchen sink, knowing the beauty won’t last as long as I want it to. Knowing it will only stir in me a yearning that no view out my kitchen window, no view in this world, can quench.

But those blooms—and the thickly green foliage that will accompany them soon enough—will also outshine the view I’m taking in right now: Bare branches framing an impossibly golden sunrise. Every summer, we forget the view that winter’s barrenness affords. Every winter, we ache for spring. These trees’ branches, stretching out in arms-open prayer toward the sky, seem to ache for the coming spring more than I do. But today I am reminded—there is beauty in their waiting, too.

Below is a beloved version of the song, which you’ll remember from the Winona Ryder version of Little Women, to inspire you to continue to raise a song of grateful praise for this beauty of the earth...

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