'Winter Forest,' watercolor by Carolyn Newberger

Illuminating the Hidden Forest, Chapter 35: Winter intimacies

To read the previous chapters of ‘Illuminating the Hidden Forest,’ click here.

During the winter, the forest is spare. We can look through the trees at the distant landscapes, only visible now. But the near forest brings us something special, too: the intimate personalities of trees.

‘Falling into each other’s arms.’ Photo: Carolyn Newberger

We see their scars and bruises. We see trees upended by the ravages of storms, fallen into each other’s arms.

‘A tree with a story.’ Photo: Carolyn Newberger

We can trace the twistings and turnings of trees that grew over and around obstacles, or through the embrace of vines that encircle their girths.

In the spring and summer, as the bushes bloom and the leaves burst forth, the trees become clothed in their luscious finery, their blemishes and struggles hidden.

With humans, our deepest relationships are with those with whom we can be most exposed. Only when the feelings come out and the clothes come off do we understand how deeply we can love and be loved. Perhaps that applies to the forest as well. In winter, I feel that I get to know the trees more intimately. As their leaves fall, they open themselves to me. I see their personalities. The grizzled, tortured arboreal souls draw me in and capture my heart in ways that their plumaged display cannot.

‘A grizzled soul.’ Photo: Carolyn Newberger

I can relate to the passage of time in their fissured bark, the challenges reflected in their broken limbs, fungal growths and hollows, and even in the many ways they show me that they have fought and lost. Only in winter do we clearly see their stories.

I think of my friends who winter in parts south and enjoy the Berkshires only when the forests are fulsome with blooms and leaves, pods and seeds. How sad, I think, that they don’t experience the wholeness of the forest. Their acquaintance is superficial, idealized: dating, but not marriage.