Love, Up Close

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This is the very first image I posted on my blog: my original header.

Initially I hesitated to use it because the Monocacy, the polluted but lovely southern river for which this blog is named, is nowhere to be found. Ultimately, however, that is one of the very reasons that the picture is so appropriate. A river is more than the water that flows into it; it is the land that surrounds it. It is the land that determines its health. It is on the land that I find most of the trash that pollutes its waters.

But this image is really about the heart spray-painted on the trunk of the dead tree. Ostensibly it is vandalism, a sort of trashing of nature, but the symbol and its underlying message imbues it with its own sort of beauty. It also reflects my feeling toward this small part of a much larger ecosystem. This heart on this tree is on a small island on a small river (the Monocacy) that flows into a larger river (the Potomac) that flows into a delicate bay (the Chesapeake) that opens into an ocean (the Atlantic). This space is so much more than it seems. And so is the tree.

Let’s look a little more closely. A heart:

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And more closely still. An imperfect heart:

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And even closer. A mere smudge:

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Or something more. This heart on this dead tree is the marker for an entrance to a whole other world. It hides the holes made by birds looking for insects looking for food looking for a home. If I were a microbiologist, I could say more, but even my limited knowledge allows me to appreciate the complexity of the life provided by this rotting trunk.

And appreciation is what this blog is about. Appreciating the ugly in order to appreciate the beautiful. Appreciating the moments that make a small life big. Appreciating the life around me so easily overlooked. Appreciating how often things are not quite as simple as they seem. Appreciating a world of writers, thinkers and artists who may not think of themselves as any of these things.

Love from the Monocacy.

The Standing Dead

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My son has a word for long-dead trees that still stand in the woods: the Standing Dead. The smaller ones he enjoys pushing over, both to test out his muscles and to hear the great crack and groan as they tip and finally fall to the ground. After an ice storm a few years ago, we ventured to the river and found ourselves in dangerous territory. All around us, we heard branches creaking, snapping, and crashing, and the accompanying whump and snap and kersplash as they landed in the forest and the river echoed through the chill, moist air. One such branch missed us by only a few feet. The boys, being heedless daredevils wont to cheer enthusiastically during lightning storms (especially on airplanes) and tornado warnings (which are too few in Maryland, according to them), thought that the whole thing was magnificent, and I had a hard time convincing them that it might be a good idea to go home.

Despite the floods and ice and wind storms that take out these Standing Dead (which, by the way, actually go by the scientific term “snags”), there are still plenty of them along the river.  They are important to the insects, birds and other small animals that use their cavities, dead wood, and solid structure as homes and food sources. Only yesterday, I spied a pileated woodpecker knocking on a snag for insects, and it is always fascinating to peel away the loose bark to find grubs, ants and beetles busily making lives for themselves underneath their surface.

Since explaining to my son the importance of keeping the Standing Dead standing, I have convinced him to leave them alone for the most part.  The large ones, at least, he can’t move anyway, which is fortunate because, whether festooned in vines during the summer, or bent and angled sharply against the sky in winter, these dead trees are really beautiful in their own way.