This is our first spring in the state of Washington, and it is an understatement to say that our Pacific Northwest habitat has changed just a bit compared to our former Colorado digs. Here in Cascade land, green is ubiquitous year-round. Back in the Centennial State, winter brown will prevail into April.
So today, in Lenten reverie, I was thinking back to a memorable saunter this time of year. Gail was out of town visiting her folks. I had the day off and was out wandering the newly opened Ridgeline Trail system. It was a weekday morning on a not so nice day, so the paths were empty, the air chilly and the sky gray. At one point I left the trail and wandered back into a draw to see what I could see. In a quiet and secluded spot I crawled back under a scrub oak, lay down on my back and fell asleep. When I awoke, a very light rain had begun to fall, but I was sheltered enough to simply lie there for some time and think about spring and life and death and Lent and resurrection. After a few moments I pulled out a notepad and scribbled a few lines, which came together further later that evening in this:
i lie beneath an overwintered scrub oak
staring up through stark branches
dead, brittle brown leaves
beneath leaden sky
death has held tight rein through
storms and winds of winter
how? death is strong, tenacious
yet below each stiff leaf stem is life
life that will soon push out
push death down, each leaf to earth
where tree will nourish itself
nourish its own growth by God’s grace
death is an illusion, mocked
life triumphs, green
So, that’s where my thoughts have taken me this third week of Lent, and I thought I’d share this little piece with you for your blessing. I pray you might anticipate the life that God is yet to course through whatever dormancy you may be experiencing.
And, oh, while I’ve got you, let me tell you about the humble Scrub Oak, since I always enjoy sharing a little nature lesson along the way. It’s also called Gambel Oak, Winter Oak, Oak Brush and White Oak, though it’s not the same as the majestic Eastern White Oak. It’s an unpretentious tree of the interior southwest, common to all the ‘Four Corners’ states, and tends to be rather slight, normally 10-30 feet. The Scrub Oak is ubiquitous in arid foothills at 3500-6500 feet elevation, and carries a stunted, gnarly look. Unlike most deciduous trees, it holds most of its dead leaves through the winter, thus the name Winter Oak; spring’s new axillary bud development below each brittle leaf stem finally push the previous year’s leaf right out of its sheath. Though small, the tree is still an important and accessible winter deer browse in any kind of snow, and can produce a prolific mast of acorns each year, a rich and welcome treat for squirrels and bears as well as the deer.
~~ RGM, March 24, 2017