Winter Nature Study: Seeing the Trees
In a world screaming with distraction, the art of slowing down and observing the simple treasures of life is a skill only acquired through persistent intention.
It is not an ability stumbled upon by mindless wandering, but one which must be practiced and perfected.
When honed, it is a skill that not only warns of coming trouble but also opens eyes to the immense beauty and majesty of the world.
In our home, we try to be intentional about developing this gift in our children and ourselves.
Outside of my obnoxious nagging to "be aware!" when walking through a busy parking lot or store aisle with my boys, our family also turns the practice of awareness into a game.
To play, my husband and I will assign points for different objects, such as 1 point for a stream, 3 points for a squirrel nest, 5 points for a deer, and so on. If you see the item first, you receive the points, and whoever earns the most points wins.
And in winter, one of our favorite subjects to search for is the trees.
Some trees are evergreen; some are deciduous. Some hold their brown leaves until spring. Some have gray bark; some have white. Some have gnarly, twisting branches; others have straight, upward branches.
If you take a closer look, some have smooth bark, rough bark, peeling bark, or aromatic bark. Some have thorny branches, winged branches, flexible branches, or rigid branches,
Get even closer and observe the buds. Some are spherical, others spear-like. Some have clustered buds, others solitary.
In the beginning stages of your tree study, don't worry about identifying the specific tree species, as that will come later. Simply be observant of the differences.
Once you develop that awareness and become familiar with what to look for, learning the specific identities will be much easier.
So when you are out traveling this winter, keep an eye on the trees. Who can spot the pale orange leaves holding fast to the Beech? Who can find the mighty white Sycamore towering at the riverside? Who sees the gnarly Bur Oak standing as a giant in the middle of the field?
And what begins as a simple game of observation may grow into something much more: an appreciation of the natural world, an ability to see things others do not, and the gift of seeing beauty in even the most barren of worlds.