Observing tree branches

We can find things to appreciate in all kinds of weather, and I can keep my attention occupied studying what I can find here in the Milwaukee area, in our parks and on our streets!

When I went out for a walk Saturday, in my warm winter coat, I was plenty warm. When temperatures are above freezing, there’s not yet that chill in the air that gives one’s skin a distinctive experience.

What I paid the most attention to was the form of the trees. Fall is over, and I did not notice any leaves left on the trees. We get to enjoy the beauty of leaves in the other seasons, but winter emphasizes branches, trunks – the solidity of wood.

I am often struck by the beauty of organic patterns, in this case the branching patterns one can see in many places. When I look at trees, I am reminded of river deltas, broccoli, and other versions of branching forms. Organic forms repeat themselves, on a variety of scales in a variety of substances. (Do others come to mind to you?)

Sometimes I get a little hungry when looking at trees, thinking not just of broccoli but of other food that takes this form. Sometimes I yearn to be taking a boat and making my way through (and perhaps getting lost in) a variety of branches at the mouth of a river; enjoying the winding elements, while unable to see the other parts.

While one might lose track of the patterns in a delta, winter is a season which emphasizes these patterns, makes them more visible than they are otherwise. Later we will get to enjoy patterns of snow on these branches. For now, we can let our minds follow the patterns.

Stark patterns against the sky. Bold dark browns in front of greys and blues. Solidness of trunks.

When I drew trees when I was younger, I drew all branches as equally solid. Or I drew the classic ‘Christmas tree’ model of the fir tree. Those fir trees I want to reflect on more later in winter – but what struck me recently was the delicacy of deciduous trees.

Fine filigree of tips of branches – to my eyes, from a distance, they appear to fade into flimsiness, appearing to lose their solidity at the tips.

Branches look so firm. Yet they also seem fluid in a way, as branch tips appear to fade into the air, growing less visible toward their ends. And the form (even when not wind-blown) has a vividness to it, a lively stretching out, as they grow in a flowing way (again, like river branches in a delta). Bending and shrinking, it looks like, as they reach out.

I will be honest with you – as you might guess from the blog title, snow is what gets me really excited. But there is plenty to appreciate outdoors in winter even when snow is not on the ground!

Remember what this looks like now. Take a careful look. When the snow comes, things are changed more dramatically than they are by any other weather event. The more we recall the way things looked before the snow fell, the more impressed we can be by the changes taking place during and after a snowstorm.

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About MilwaukeeSnow

Dr. Jeffrey Filipiak, Milwaukee's Ambassador of Snow, loves winter, Milwaukee, and environmental history! He has taught college courses on topics including history, writing, environmental ethics, food studies, the Great Lakes, and sustainability. You can contact him at ambassadorofsnow@gmail.com.
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