The Wise Trees

The Winter Trees

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!

Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

~ William Carlos Williams

As we await what forecasters imagine could be another 18 inches to three feet of snow this weekend, I snowshoed nearby yesterday on the six or eight inches we have remaining from past snowfalls.

The trees and snags rise, stark, sometimes patterned, sometimes the most colourful thing in sight, especially when adorned with lichen. Their verticality is artless and obvious when they’re bare of “attire,” as William Carlos Williams puts it. Standing straight and parallel as fence pickets, but rarely arranged in fence form, the trunks define space by where they are and by where they’re not; their steadfast presence, one by one amid the mounded snow, expands my sense of the woods, eternally amplifies the air and magnifies the extent of the frozen earth as I look from one to the next, these signs, these sages actively waiting through winter, gathering the clear cold energy and deepening, preparing for what may come, sending roots to what is, for the moment, solid.


And sometimes a gift is tucked away within the gift.



  1. Disattiring- what a wonderful phrase. Your post was just what I needed this cold and damp evening. Plus it came on the heels of the interesting Mary Holland post. No leaf marcescence on Your walk (another great phrase to keep handy).
    “Deciduous trees typically lose all of their leaves by late autumn. However, when snowshoeing or skiing through the woods this time of year, one is likely to find a scattering of deciduous trees that still have leaves clinging tightly to their branches. These plants are exhibiting marcescence, the trait of retaining plant parts after they are dead and dry.

    Most deciduous trees form a layer of cells called the abscission layer at the base of each leaf’s stem, or petiole, where it attaches to the branch. This layer is composed of thin-walled cells that break easily, allowing the leaf to drop. A thin layer of corky cells seals the tree at the spot where the leaf was attached. Abcission layers are not formed on marcescent trees such as oaks and the American Beech, all members of the family Fagaceae. Therefore, their leaves do not fall off as readily, and many remain attached through the winter.

    The evolutionary reasons for marcescence are not clear, though theories include defense against herbivory (e.g. browsing by deer), protection of leaf buds from winter desiccation, and as a delayed source of nutrients or moisture-conserving mulch when the leaves finally fall and decompose in the spring.

    Leaf marcescence is most often seen on juvenile trees, and on the lower branches of older trees.

    1. Thanks, Mary Anne. There actually was marsescence, but I didn’t take a picture of the beeches holding on to their leaves.

    2. Flowering cherries do reasonably well for us, even though our climate is rather mild; but there is one that exhibits folir marcescence annually. It is rather unsightly. The tree looks dead. Fortunately, it defoliates just as the floral buds swell, so does not ruin the flashiness of the bloom. I sort of think that it does so just because it happens to be in a warm spot, but I really do not know. Flowering cherries of the same cultivar (Kwanzan) have no problem defoliating in even milder climates. Some types of Japanese maples do it as well, but only if the weather is mild, or if the foliage gets roasted earlier in the season.
      The native valley oak defoliates slowly through winter and into spring as new foliage emerges. It is such a mess! Cold weather or wind accelerate defoliation. There is often a pause in defoliation right after much of the foliage gets frosted or blown out.

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