Holding On

Winter uses a stark palette to paint our landscape of bare trees densely covering rolling hills. A few strokes of green capture ever-faithful pines, but a surprising touch is the rich copper of beech tree leaves still holding on in late February.

Step into the scene and listen. You’ll hear the brittle leaves shake like maracas, growing loud and lively in the blowing wind. Winter is no match for the tenacity of these leaves. They keep dancing and singing despite the cold, rain, sleet and snow.

There’s a scientific explanation why some deciduous trees retain their leaves through the winter. It’s called marcescence, but maybe it’s just much-needed encouragement from nature to keep holding on.

Sometimes we hold on in anticipation of something wonderful.

A woman awaits the birth of her baby. A bride awaits her wedding day. A child awaits a birthday. A prayer is finally answered. Life is marked by joyous celebrations. The wait can be excruciating, but we have to be patient. We must hold on.

Sometimes we hold on to make it through a difficult time.

A busy mother comes to the end of another long day. A student faces an all-nighter during finals week. A patient counts down the number of chemo treatments. A broken heart takes time to heal. Life has its challenges, trials and grief, but we can’t give up. We must hold on.

Sometimes we simply hold on for the arrival of spring.

Like marcescent leaves, we bravely turn our faces to another cold, gray day and cling a little tighter. The icy wind grabs and shakes us, but we don’t let go. We let it become the music to which we dance and sing, knowing that spring will come eventually, just as it always does. We must hold on.

Even if you live in a climate that doesn’t have you longing for spring, you understand it metaphorically. There are seasons in each of our lives which we just have to wait out with courage and hope. These are the times we must hold on.

The penny-colored leaves of the beech tree show us the way. §

Love Poems

Choosing a poem for February to celebrate the beauty of both love and nature seemed a simple task. Poetry books are filled with such poems, but I couldn’t find one that was just right. Most seemed too heavy, fluffy, melodramatic, insincere, tragic or callow.

Unaware of my search for the perfect poem, my husband wrote me one for Valentine’s Day. Now that’s the kind of poem I was looking for! I’m keeping such a personal gift to myself, but it inspired me to find a poem so gentle yet sturdy.

Then I came across a poem by Daniel G. Hoffman called Yours. Hoffman was a poet, critic and educator. From 1973 to 1974, he served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, an appointment now called Poet Laureate. His poems were often set outdoors and explored man’s connection to the natural world.

In describing Hoffman’s poems, a scholar wrote, “In them is a lifetime of careful observance, the voice rarely raised yet passionate in its precision, the man behind it enough a lover of life to have been properly critical of the way we live it.” (I must say I’m struck by how easily these words could be said of my husband.)

Hoffman wrote this poem for his wife, Elizabeth McFarland, to whom he was married for 57 years. McFarland was also a poet and poetry editor for Ladies Home Journal from 1948 until 1961 when the magazine stopped publishing verse.

The poem has four unrhymed couplets and creates strong images of relationships found in nature ~ flower scented air, mountains in the moonlight, a tree in spring, and an island in the sea.

Anyone who has loved another can surely relate to this beautiful line found in the last stanza ~ your love is the weather of my being. §

Yours by Daniel Hoffman

I am yours as the summer air at evening is
Possessed by the scent of linden blossoms,

As the snowcap gleams with light
Lent it by the brimming moon.

Without you I’d be an unleafed tree
Blasted in a bleakness with no Spring.

Your love is the weather of my being.
What is an island without the sea? ❤

From Nature, With Love

Nature sends the sweetest Valentines in the form of heart-shaped surprises. Most of us have smiled at the sight of a cloud, acorn or seashell in the perfect shape of a heart. A universal symbol of love, hearts found in nature are positively sigh-inducing.

My son was very young when he proudly gave me a rock shaped like a heart. I imagine his face beaming at its discovery while playing outside, his tiny hand quickly stuffing it in his pocket for safe-keeping. He found supplies to decorate it, outlining the rock’s shape with red poster paint and carefully painting, in blue, the word love.

It’s a gift I’ve never forgotten, and so began my beloved collection of heart rocks. For more than twenty years, nature has freely offered them. Family and friends find them on their travels and present them to me knowing I will cherish them more than any souvenir.

When my husband and I go hiking, we frequently stop to pick up a rock that catches our eye, gleaming at the bottom of a creek bed or hiding in forested nooks and rocky crannies. We carefully examine it and hold it out for the other to approve. Only those with a certain je ne sais quoi make the cut. The others are given a parting squeeze and tossed back with a wish.

My heart rock collection fills a large tray on our living room coffee table. There are more than a hundred, some the size of my palm, others as small as a dime. Their colors are a soothing palette of nature.

They came from beaches and deserts, rivers and mountains, playgrounds and parking lots. I wonder the story of each one. How old is it? Where has it been? How did nature manage to tumble and turn it until it was shaped like love?

Photographers have captured amazing images of hearts in nature from all over the world ~ a heart-shaped beach in Brazil, a heart-shaped boulder in Joshua Tree National Park, a heart-shaped island in Croatia, even a heart-shaped crater on the surface of Mars.

While such phenomenon would be a thrill to see, I’m just as happy to spy a flock of birds flying in a heart pattern or a perfect heart-shaped leaf trailing from my houseplant.

Those who open their eyes in appreciation of nature are freely showered with her gifts. William Wordsworth wrote this lovely sentiment about her undying affection, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” §

A Change of Heart

Winter allows us to witness the miracle of change in real time. Last week our cove was covered with a sheet of ice. Yesterday a caldron of steam brewed and hovered over thick gray slush. Today ducks swim and splash in crystal clear water. It’s fascinating to watch the lake transform from liquid to gas to solid and back again.

The fact is, everything with mass and weight is made of matter and all matter can change. Stars and planets, butterflies and birds, rocks and rivers, you and I are all made of matter. Which means we all have the ability to change ~ a little or a lot.

Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

Literature is filled with dynamic characters who undergo a positive transformation. Ebenezer Scrooge, the Beast, Daddy Warbucks and everyone off to see the Wizard are just a few well-known characters who by the end of the story change for the better.

One of my favorite childhood novels is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. A sour little girl named Mary is sent to live in a sad and lonely place. As she tends a neglected garden, joy blossoms in her own heart and in everyone’s around her.

History is marked by people whose change of heart changed the world. Rosa Parks bravely changed her mind about sitting in the back of the bus. The Apostle Paul saw the light on the road to Damascus. Abraham Lincoln’s views on the evils of slavery evolved.

Call it flip-flopping, but George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Ordinary people can change, too. Homeboy Industries is the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world. Every year it helps thousands of former gang members become valuable citizens. Founder Father Gregory Joseph Boyle expressed the ability to help people change their lives by quoting poet Galway Kinnell, “Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.”

Some say a leopard doesn’t change its spots. Certainly we must be wise in our interactions, but we can always leave the door open for change. We can start by looking for the loveliness in ourselves and in others. We can break our own self-defeating and hurtful habits. We can have hope that the people we care about can and will do the same.

Past injustices, political division, discouraging headlines, personal challenges, fear and pure stubbornness can make us as cold as ice. Maybe the lake’s dramatic transformation is nature’s way of reminding us to let our hearts melt a little, show grace, and have faith that we can continuously learn, grow and change into the best version of ourselves. §