In Search of Leafless Trees

“A few days ago I walked along the edge of the lake and was treated to the crunch and rustle of leaves with each step I made.
The acoustics of this season are different and all sounds, no matter how hushed, 
are as crisp as autumn air.”  –   Eric Sloane


“I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.”
-  Henry David Thoreau,  1817 – 1862  

After having recently fulfilled an appointment of my own with a horse chestnut, a sycamore that turned out to be a Stewartiana, (but was nonetheless beautiful) yesterday I went in search of leafless trees. It was time for another of my ‘perambulations’ that sometimes pop up on this blog.

A fascinating bark like a sycamore, but is actually a Stewartiana

A fascinating bark like a sycamore, but is actually a Stewartiana

I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and did not have to tramp ‘eight or ten miles through the deepest snow’ to find them. Though I am a tree enthusiast, I’m no match for Thoreau and his tireless treks.

Along the way, though, I was accompanied, in thought, by Thoreau and the words of other writers who love trees.


‘There is a slumbering subterranean fire in nature which never goes out, and which no cold can chill.’  – Thoreau


“Being thus prepared for us in all ways, and made beautiful, and good for food, and for building, 
and for instruments of our hands, this race of plants, deserving boundless affection and 
admiration from us, becomes, in proportion to their obtaining it, a nearly perfect test of our 
being in right temper of mind and way of life; so that no one can be far wrong in either who 
loves trees enough, and everyone is assuredly wrong in both who does not love them, 
if his life has brought them in his way.” 
-  John Ruskin



“The leafless trees become spires of flame in the sunset, with the blue east for their background; and the stars of the dead calices of flowers and every withered stem and stubble rimed with frost contribute something to the mute music.” –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Oh, I love Emerson’s idea of ‘mute music’, though in this walk I was more reminded of the above quoted thought from Sloane, regarding, ‘the acoustics of the season’. It was a fine and windy day, so the music I heard was not so mute; the gusts rushed powerfully through the tops of the barren trees, creating deep bass sighs and alto groans. Emerson’s words about ‘stubble rimed with frost‘ provides sweetmeats to the wordsmith so let me digress a moment. Emerson employs a wonderful word—rime—that comes from a poet’s bag of tricks and describes that fine, crystalline hoarfrost that is not quite snow but gives everything it touches a luminous white coating. (If you would like to read more about this sparkling, fairy-like phenomenon, and some fascinating scientific details as to the different types, read this lovely post by Cathy Bell.)

Icy blasts off the river scoured out my lungs—or should I say rimed my lungs, for that is what it felt like—and caused my eyes to stream with what might have looked like the ‘tears of a solitary walker’. Even so, the brisk gait of the indomitable Thoreau looms into view:

‘It is invigorating to breathe the cleansed air. Its greater fineness and purity are visible to the eye, and we would fain stay out long and late, that the gales may sigh through us, too, as through the leafless trees, and fit us for the winter,—as if we hoped so to borrow some pure and steadfast virtue, which will stead us in all seasons.’ – Thoreau

Ogden Nash said something similar, only quite different.


“I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree. Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I’ll never see a tree at all.” – Ogden Nash

It’s appropriate we end with Ogden Nash, because he was parodying what is possibly the most famous tree poem of all.

I hope you enjoyed this November walk, and feel ‘fitted out’ for the winter.