Nature Meditation #2 – Winter Color

“Contrary to popular belief, winter does not purge the world of color. Although the colors of winter are subtler and must be sought out, they are rich and bold. Explore the color of the woods: from deep green moss growing on maroon bark to the sky’s unsettling purples to the sun’s reflections off ice crystals…. The muted tones of winter allow for the discovery of nature that is concealed by the busyness of other seasons.”  John A. Kinch, A Journey For All Seasons 

Years ago, growing up in western Oklahoma wheat country, I wouldn’t have agreed with Kinch about winter color. There didn’t seem to be much winter color to me, only the browns of dead grasses, pressed into the earth by an enormous blue sky dome. I remember hearing – and agreeing – that winter was ‘ugly.’ 

During college, I moved to the edge of what is called the Oklahoma Cross Timbers, just east of I-35, the interstate highway that splits our state almost in half. The west (in general) is grassland and relatively flat. The east (in general) is forested, rolling land that gives way to the Ozark Uplift in the north and the Ouachita Mountains in the south.

Suddenly, I experienced winter walks in the woods and began to see.  The evergreens were vibrant and dark, and beneath them, moss in colors ranging from chartreuse green to emerald, clung to rocks that varied from rusty red to gray. Little mushrooms — some white, some beige, some orange — poofed up from bare brown-tan soil.  (The ‘shrooms remind me of bread crumbs, dropped by a wanderer.)

Hollies and nandina wear red berries, and mistletoe high up in the trees bears white. Cedars grow purple berries.  

But most astonishing was the discovery that not all tree bark was alike! I had learned in a botany class how to tell one tree from another based on the type of leaves, or maybe the fruit or nut. In winter, the one characteristic that is always there is the bark.

Tree barks are different colors, and each tree species is graced with a different bark pattern. Some are deeply grooved (oaks), some warty (hackberry), and some are fitted with what almost appears to be scales (green ash). Some of the barks are almost black in color (blackjack oak) while large patches of gray and white  are smeared down tall trunks of another tree (sycamore).

And as if the different barks were not enough to help identify the tree, there is the sillouette it makes against that aquamarine sky. Tall and broad, tall and narrow, wide and flat, to almost spherical, every species – at maturity – has an identifying shape. Suddenly, it became almost easier to identify a tree in winter than it was in summer, when greens wash into greens and one shape of leaf overlaps another.

These winter colors– black, gray, silver, white, crimson, purple, tan, green — are each set off by the everchanging Oklahoma sky. Our sky, whether at sunrise or sunset, is a swirling masterpiece of pastel pinks and blues, trimmed in deepest purples and brilliant golds.

Winter color is magnificent! I hope you will take some time this week to look for it. You’ll be pleased at what you find! 

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