Nature’s Encouragement to Hold On


Picture the late winter landscape painted with a stark and limited palette. Only shades of black and gray are needed for wet tree trunks and the tangle of bare limbs against an endless graphite sky. A few strokes of green capture ever-faithful pines. Surprisingly, the artist needs a touch of rich copper to paint odd clusters of leaves that still hold on to branches in February.

Step into the scene and listen. Hear the brittle brown leaves shake like maracas, growing loud and lively in the blowing wind. Despite the cold, rain and snow, they dance and sing. Winter’s harshness is no match for the perseverance of these brave leaves.

There’s a scientific explanation why some trees retain their leaves through the winter. It’s called marcescence, the withering and persistence of plant organs, such as leaves, that normally shed. Here in the Midwest of the United States, this phenomenon is most obvious in deciduous trees like oak, beech and hornbeam. Not being an arborist, I see those tenacious leaves as much-needed encouragement to keep holding on.

Sometimes we hold on through a difficult time. “Holding on to hope when everything is dark, is the greatest test of faith,” said educator Yasmin Mogahed. An exhausted caregiver struggles to get through another day. A devoted 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 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. French novelist Gustave Flaubert wrote, “Pleasure is found first in anticipation, later in memory.” 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 frosty wind grabs and shakes us, but we don’t let go. We let it become the palette of the season, knowing that spring will return with all its color, just as it always does. Way back in the 1600s poet Anne Bradstreet wrote, “If we had no winter the spring would not be so pleasant.” We must hold on.

We all have seasons in our lives that we simply have to wait out with courage and hope. These waiting times may last an hour, a few weeks or even years, but we hold on we must. The penny-colored leaves that dot the winter landscape show us the way. §

“Holding-on can be a joyful ‘this is just the nature of life, so I may as well enjoy it’ kind of holding-on.”
~ Jonathan Lockwood Huie, author

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