Arnold Arboretum: Life in Winter (1 of 3)

I spot C: masked with freshly dyed lavender-pink hair framing their face.  Closing the distance, C hands me a Christmas gift bag.

Gingerly, I part the green tissue paper to reveal a pair of socks.  On the socks, a person stands outside a tent underneath the words: inside sucks.

Now, the indoors do not stink.

 Still, there is something special about the outdoors, especially this year.

Afterall, the outdoors is the only place where I have physically spent time with my loved ones, outside of my partner, since March 13, 2020.

I tuck the socks and its bag into my blue backpack.

C and I duck around the Arnold Arboretum gate.  It looms beside us with its stone pillars and large metal gateway firmly shut. 

In front of us, a thin dirt path invites us in.

The golden larches greet us.  They look naked now that they have dropped all their mustard-yellow needles from the autumn.  Once, dripping with sunshine, their winter figures now stand in stark relief.

Eagerly, we catch up as we amble along the paved road, paralleling the Conifer Path.  Suddenly, something catches my eye: a grove of tall pines with bluish-green needles. I rush over to check the identification tag: Colorado blue spruce.  “Yes!”  I cry out.  I had correctly identified that tree species, having read about the 1874 arrival of its seedlings on the Arnold Arboretum website.

When I miss the trees of the arboretum, I simply read about them.

C and I veer off the road. Our recounting of holiday celebrations now weaves with wild yews. With soft mud squishing under my feet, I resist slithering into the grove of wild yews on my right and getting lost in their spider web. 

Instead, C and I pause to admire the cypress trees on our left: it features flattened needles. Its soft reddish bark falls off in strips that looks like fabric.

Around the bend, we find two pine shrubs hovering near our feet. It’s like the shrubs knew the photographic “rule of thirds” because the bottom of them grows out wide like ground cover, then the middle grows out only a little bit, and then the top barely at all. 

A blueish berry decorates one of these plants. 

I lower myself to the ground and reach for the tree’s identification tag: A juniper.

We have sighted our first juniper berries ever.

Still, I am here to see an old friend, the green chandelier juniper by which I lingered last time.  I eagerly push forward to see her, then stop, startled by the sighting. 

In this austere season, her emerald greens have dulled and brown now tinges her tips.  Still, I give her my winter greetings.

Satisfied, C and I move back to the main road.  On the road, we walk by oaks and moss, hickories and birches, until finally we find ourselves on the sidewalk squeezed between lilac bushes.

Leaves dropped, branches bare, the lilacs still retain a sign of life, surprising me.  Here in January, buds remain at the end of limbs as sensors, measuring warmth, waiting to send the signal to the roots when it’s time to grow.

The sighting touches me, as our world remains in a holding pattern of bare lives, with all routines and human contact dropped. 

In the winter of the pandemic, as I remain on the outside of my former life, still moments come, like this walk with C, that remind me that life remains, waiting one day to bloom again.

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