A trail walk during the first gray days of winter often creates a sense of inner questioning. “Where has the year gone?” you ask, or “why is it snowing so soon?” you ask. Perhaps, if the day is cold enough and gray enough you might even find yourself asking “what does it all mean?” Like an introspective Scottish poet walking the chilly moors we tend to get dark and moody thoughts (“why in the heck am I out here in the bloody moors in a kilt and no underwear” type thoughts). This latter question is a meaningless query – and by latter I mean the “what does it mean” and not the kilt conundrum. Because of the lack of definition of the word “it”, this is an undefined question. How can one answer that anyway – without coming up with the conclusion that the meaning of life is “42” or something like that?
You pass the lonely snow-covered picnic table and your feelings get darker. It is sinking in a pool of water and now useless. It is alone and useless. All the other picnic tables are stacked for the winter – looking as if they are comforting each other. No, this one is alone, useless, and wet.
If one turns to the Great Blue Heron perching in the brown cattails, it too looks rather picnic table like. Most sensible herons have flown south for the winter, but there are always a dedicated few that stick it out. This one, although maintaining a stern demeanor, looks doubtful about his decision. He is not looking so “great” at the moment but he is definitely “blue.” He is cold and gray and wet. “Why is that idiot taking my picture,” he thinks. “Leave me alone, I am counting the days until spring. Spring will never come. I hate you.”
I look down to the snowy board walk and there I see that I am not the only one who has taken this darkening path. Several other idiots have also passed by since the snowfall. Although I’m sure the human tracks were made by sensible folks, I am not comforted by the fact that an opossum and a fox squirrel have chosen the same route as mine. I am in the company of the simple and the dim-witted. Squirrels, which jump at the chance to flatten themselves at every road crossing, and the ‘possums who showed them how to do it. Winter opossums will eat other frozen dead opossums or flattened squirrels without thought. What kind of life is that? Are we all opossums wearing kilts? Are squirrels really running the planet? Is a squirrel without nuts a female or is it hungry?
There wasn’t much going on this particular day. A creepy little Brown Creeper did it’s best to stay out of camera distance. These birds are well named because they creep along and pick out insects from bark crannies using their long curved bills. Creepers are pretty little things, but I can’t really show you much of this one because my bird was being creepy and aloof. He made it a point to stay out of reach. Winter has arrived and there is no time for idiot photography. Creep.
By the time I reached the craggy old silver maple by the lakeshore I was ready to admit that I was not looking forward to this winter. I really thought I was ready, but the grayness of the day was getting to me. Then I spotted a potential answer to my useless “what does it mean” question. There was a clearly outlined Chinese character in the bark of this tree. O.K., it was not clearly Chinese but it was Chinese-like (better than being picnic-table or heron-like). Perhaps this meant something like “go forth and conquer” or “life is a determined heron.” Perhaps it would give me some inspiration.
Unfortunately, I did look up the symbol later and it appears to resemble the character for “giant.” That was about as helpful as “42”. Upon closer examination I could see that the pattern was actually made by a bark beetle. A small simple bark beetle. The darkened passageways indicate the life journey of one beetle grub as it ate its way through the thin cambium layer where bark met wood. Upon further consideration, I came to the final conclusion that this grub writing looked more like a copyright symbol – you know the “c” within a circle. The circle was squared, but the “c” was fairly clear.
This final thought did peel away the layers of my early winter funk. Perhaps this magnificent tree was copyrighted by God. All the meaning of life came back to me in one tremendous rush. The table was not lonely, only resting. The Heron was pensive, not peeved. The Creeper was creeping and the possums were trotting as they should. The squirrels were feeding the ‘possums through their stupidity. I am filling this blog posting with stupidity. It all made sense for one magic moment.
There was only one small problem that tempered my epiphany. According to the calendar winter is not really here yet. So, my dark winter thoughts were jumping the gun a bit. I might still have to cut that Silver Maple down in order to get firewood and stay warm this winter. Will God strike me down if I do that? Stay tuned.