Growing, gratefully

We drove to the state park for the sole purpose of giving Bob an opportunity to experiment with his new metal detector. The pond was completely frozen, and skaters and dogs festooned the ice, frolicking about for down the other end. The dog's barks bounced off the solid banks and rang through naked trees. The sky was intensely blue, sun bright flashing on skates and highlighting the vivid hues of winter garments. Beautiful, yes, but too cold for me.

I'm not an outdoors person in winter, and the prospect of exploring with Bob was not attractive. He immediately switched on his new "toy," as I unflatteringly called it, but all he turned up were aluminum can rings and bottle caps. He had to dig them out energetically with bare fingers, and they were bent and rusty, scarcely worth his efforts. He stayed in the picnic area where remains of summer fires still charred the ground. I murmured that we could do with just one little fire -- now.The ticks came louder and livelier as he approached each false cache. I kept blowing into my gloves most eloquently. The warm can seemed more and more appealing as the minutes passed, and Bob was not unduly offended when I finally suggested going back there to read.

But I had forgotten my book. So I sat there, patiently waiting his return. Looking out and around. There was dirty, frozen snow on the lifeless grass. Many trees struggled from the frigid ground. White pines were in the grove where I was ensconced. I tried to give a label to others, and get better acquainted. Maples, gray birches; hickories with shaggy bark, a scroungy apple tree. "I must not let myself be bored," I murmured aloud to myself. "Observe. The note. Benefit from your own all-too-ready advice. Leave this place richer than you were when you arrived, even through . . ." So I looked and tried to absorb some of all the natural patience around me.

On thing came gradually clear. Every tree, no matter what kind it was, yearned -- upm . Its bare fingers might be twisted and gnarled, but they were ever-reaching, unfailingly pointing -- upm . Roots must go as deep, I knew; and imagined those great anchors delving, spreading, sending finer, hairier holdfasts in every direction, out and down, in search of life-sustaining food and drink. While a tree lives it grows. When it stops growing, it dies. When a tree reaches its ultimate height it broadens. It stretches, widens, continues to grow. It lives.m For birds, animals, and men, for the general ecology. The lesson was obvious as I sat there, gazing out the windshield. If I must be driven inward to the core of self for soul-sustenance, how blest I was, able to manufacture it. Still growing, speculating, aspiring -- still gratefully growing.

"Nothing but junk," Bob said, opening the car door. "How's your book?"

When I confessed I'd forgotten it, he experimenting with his little geiger while here I sat wasting time and probably restless. "But I wasn't," I corrected. And went on to explain my discovery -- or rediscovery -- of the elemental truth vouchsafed to me at year's end; an excellent time for anyone to renew appreciation of old verities. "Trees never stop growing," I reiterated. "When they do they die. When they reach an ultimate height they grow out."m

"Providing -- broader perches for owls?"

"Small birds that need shelter, too. Wider shade in season. More blossoms and fruit. When they finally do stop growing, they offer a supply of firewood to warm a midwinter night's dream. Or, in some cases, books."

He nodded. We were both satisfied.

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