This is the absolutely most barren time of the year.  I realized this recently on a walk around my neighborhood as the sun set around me at 4:30.  The air has that crispness to it, a kind of fullness that is also utterly empty.  The trees are stripped down to their barest architecture.  The outrageous cornflower blue sky is broken into tiny pieces, like irregular shards of glass, by the trees’ black branches.  And then the shadows gather, so early, the darkness is total, and our faith that the light will return carries us through.

Later, as winter moves in, there will be snow banks, icicles limning roofs and eaves.  Somehow, though colder, it’s less empty in those months.  That’s it, really: it’s empty right now.  There’s an echoing emptiness right now that goes hand in hand with the shortest days.  I’m more aware than ever of the way we exist under a big bowl of sky.  The sky – which has been, as I mentioned, heartbreaking blue this week –  is often striated with these puffy pink clouds, both as the sun comes up, late, and as it goes down, early.

On my walks I keep seeing nests in the bare trees.  Nests that must have been there when the trees were full of leaves, but I could never see them.  When the trees are stripped to their bones, we see the nests.  I couldn’t help thinking about this metaphor in our lives, too.  Do we have to let everything extraneous fall away, even things we never thought we could live without, before we know where the true, sturdy nests are?  I don’t know.  I’m not sure I’ve worked it out yet entirely, but there’s something about those nests of sticks, whose very existence through a windy, rainy fall belies their apparent fragility, that fills me with a strange combination of comfort and yearning.   And that I’ve never noticed them before, not in other winters, not in the other seasons, well, that seems not a coincidence.  Perhaps I am in search of those nests of my own, as I burrow deeper, curl in on myself, and turn towards the solstice.

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  1. Posted December 15, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I love your description of the crisp air, the puzzle-piece sky. I think seeing those nests is almost like finding a fullness in the “empty” — like the feel of the air itself. They do look as if they’d fall apart in one big gust of wind. But they don’t, somehow.

  2. Posted December 15, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Oh, it seems that way, doesn’t it Lindsey? That we have to let it all fall way, waves and waves of letting go, to see where we really came from, where we belong…

    Thank you. Taking deep breaths here.


  3. KH Macomber
    Posted December 15, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Honestly, this is one of the things I love most about perambulating around the reservoir all year round. I love how, just as you start to mourn the passing of some element of the previous season, or even the previous week, something new and wonderful is revealed to take your breath away.

    I too see those nests–I especially love finding the Oriole versions, like socks hung out to dry. What’s in their spit, that makes it possible for their wispy homes to survive the elements? Julie Z told me it’s because they weave their homes out of pliable green shoots and grasses, which dry and shrink and mold themselves into something so much more substantial than the grassy hammocks they first built.

    There’s probably there’s a lesson there, maybe about how the passing of time can produce something with unexpected power, when all we were expecting was something diminished.

    Thank you for this post. Next wonders up: frost on goldenrod, animal tracks in the snow, and the sound the ice on Fresh Pond makes when it cracks from one shore to the other.

  4. Haile
    Posted December 15, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    You know what else I can see in bare hardwood trees this time of year? Mistletoe. A parasitic love plant exposed by the powers of Fall’s cold air kiss.

    In fact, my husband shot some out of a Live Oak tree for me with his grandfather’s double barreled shotgun. Only in the South, right?

  5. Posted December 15, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    “Do we have to let everything extraneous fall away, even things we never thought we could live without, before we know where the true, sturdy nests are? ”

    Yes, yes, yes. For that is how we know who we truly are. I am getting there. My leaves have been stripped. My limbs are exposed. The nests are those little nuggets holding steadfast. Part of me, but built upon me.

  6. Posted December 18, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    I always loved the bare trees in winter and as a kid I took countless pictures of them, although no one seemed to see the beauty in them. I’m glad you do.

  7. Posted December 18, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    was thinking about you the other day… how, for me too, i prefer the winter solstace over the summer’s…. winter’s promised hope…light is coming! and then i came to your blog today — saw this post. a nest – something made of such simple, “breakable”, materials BY THEMSELVES come together to make something sturdy…sturdy enough for a mama bird to trust putting her little ones in. THAT’S something. now i’m going ot go around looking for nests all winter! thanks friend.

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