The Advent Tree



more bare
than late-shorn
fields, twisted
branches beckon birds
to decorate their lines.
 Long emptied of pretension,
  they await the birds with patience ~
 bending to the will of frost-sharp winds,
shimmering in the season’s fading light.


Comments always are welcome.
For more information on the Etheree, a syllabic poem that, in its basic form, contains ten lines and a total of fifty-five syllables, please click here.

91 thoughts on “The Advent Tree

        1. I was certain you’d like their version of the hymn, but had no idea there’s such a close connection: not only to New Zealand, but also to your family. Their music is beautiful. It not only fits the season, it suits this cold and rainy afternoon. I had to be out and about, and I’m glad to be home. I do believe what passes for winter around here has arrived.

    1. Lovely, Linda! The bare tree teaches us lessons, as do you!

      Waiting.. and watching. I was also thinking of New Zealand last night as I ‘watched’ the earth-news updates … I hope that the earth plates go back to sleep, and the birds adorn your trees!

      “Christmas Is Coming” wil not load this morning – a glitch of slow internet.. will be back whenever the connection re-awakens…

      Now let’s see if this comment can slip through the cyber cracks and reach you! umpteen attempts so far…..

      1. Reach me it did, Lisa. I hope your system has healed itself and you’ve had no more problems.

        My own most recent frustration with all things cyber actually was pretty funny. When I tried to purchase my first app with my iPad, I couldn’t. Eventually, I discovered the iCloud had me living in Azerbaijan. The only thing I can think is that the fellow in Arkansas who helped me set up the gizmo accidentally selected the wrong country in the drop-down menu. The good news is that, by the time I figured it out and fixed it, I’d gained considerable iKnowledge.

        Whether the birds come to the tree is uncertain, but if I ever have the chance, I’d love to photograph the moon tangled in its branches.

      2. The cyber cracks were obliging. Actually thinking about birds ~ some of them are adorning the blackcurrant bush and making a feast out of half-ripe currants. Birds wait and watch very patiently for the opportune moment. :)

        1. I heard goldfinches for the first time yesterday. With the weather change, I’m not surprised. I haven’t seen them yet, since I wasn’t inclined to stand around in the rain looking, but now that I know they’re here, they won’t be hard to find. They’re little appetites on wings, too, and great fun to watch.

    1. Now that you’ve said “it,” Jean, I realize that I never saw the tree as dead. On first sight, it reminded me of a sculpture at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art — Roxy Paine’s “Yield”. I thought the sculpture was pretty lively, itself. Maybe that’s why I saw the tree in the same way.

    1. Thank you, rethy. The surprise of finding this compelling tree came to mind when you quoted Emily Dickinson to the effect that “nature does not knock, and yet does not intrude!” I’m glad you enjoyed the tree,and the poem it evoked.

    1. Thanks so much, Pete. I was taken with the tree from the moment I saw it. I just couldn’t figure out how to fit it into a post about my trip. Then, I realized why — it deserved to stand on its own. I’m glad you like the result.

    1. One of my favorite Christmas decorations starts with a floor vase filled with dogwood branches I brought back from Minnesota in 2011. Every year, I hang a few tiny, gold and silver stars on them. I’d love to do the same for this tree — not many, just a few. Maybe no one ever would see them, but the tree would know they’re there. Absent the stars, I hope some birds do arrive. If they sing, that would be even better.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Debra. I found the tree near the Cimarron River crossing at Highway 16. There were several trees there, but I was especially fond of this one — and so surprised to find the river bed dry for miles. Apparently that’s its normal state, except in spring and summer. Still, it was lovely, and more evidence for the variety that Kansas offers.

      1. A beautiful Kansas tree! We’ve been having such a drought that it’s taken such a toll on the trees. I’m thankful that you see the beauty of my state. So many people don’t enjoy Kansas, they say it’s flat and nothing to see. Sad.

        Other sad news. Matfield Station is no longer taking reservations after December 31. I called to get a gift certificate and was told that it will be reserved for artists. There are lots of other places and if you want I can come up with some other rentals.

        1. By the time I get up there again, they may have decided to let ordinary people back in. On the other hand, there are other areas to explore, and plenty of lodging. I’ve stayed in the Cottage House in Council Grove, and the Millstream in Cottonwood Falls, and I’ve spent a lot of time on the Tallgrass Prairie. There are plenty of new sights to see.

          I used to hear the same thing when I told people I was from Iowa. They’d say, “What? There’s nothing but corn in that state.” There’s plenty of corn, to be sure — but there’s much more. Cows and silos come to mind. :-)

  1. There is nothing prettier than a barren tree in the winter. In fact I take pics of dead trees because to me, a tree that lived a long life and stands majestically is still beautiful.

    I like the poem very much. And so it goes, another year is about to end and we as a nation and as individuals are hoping for better times. “Hope Springs Eternal” or however the saying goes.

    1. I suspect one reason I’m partial to trees like this is that they remind me of northern trees, barren for the winter. Dead tree or shed tree, each certainly does have its good qualities, and some really are striking.

      Beyond that, they’re very, very quiet. They may clatter their branches together a bit, but that’s it. The loud, insistent commercialization that surrounds us during this season irritates me as much as anyone, and I think the silence of the trees is a fine antidote.

    1. Isn’t it funny how many of us do love them? Maybe some people are tree-huggers because some trees are heart-tuggers!

      I’m happy you like the poem, too. Joyce Kilmer might not have thought it as lovely as the tree, but I think they make a fine pair.

    1. And when it comes to the fullness of time, we often get it wrong — trying to pin it down to, say, noon on next Wednesday. It’s that danged old kairos/chronos distinction again. A kid marking off days on a calendar while he waits for Santa is all about chronos, but as you certainly know, Advent is the season of kairos. Just because it doesn’t market well doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable.

    1. That’s such a great thing to hear, Sheryl. Sometimes I choose a photo to accompany a poem, and that can work well, but when the poem arises from a photo, I think the connection is closer. The whole ends up being greater than the sum of its parts, and all that.

      It’s not unlike a little holiday treat a friend and I were talking about recently: peppermint ice cream atop a nice, warm fudge brownie. If that’s not an example of a whole being greater than the sum of its parts, I don’t know what would be!

  2. I love the sun-bleached quality of the colors in the photograph. A lot of the colors of the plains are subtle shades, lightened by the sun. Your poem got me to thinking how much time a tree spends waiting. Waiting for the sun, waiting for rain, waiting for spring.

    1. “Subtle” is a word that often comes to mind when I think about the prairies and plains. When I got to the Cimarron grasslands, “subtle” almost morphed into “nondescript,” but that was only a first impression, helped along by great sweeps of sagebrush and an assortment of other dried plants. One thing that day proved is that what I think of as thin light can be as appealing as our deep blue winter skies. Different, but just as appealing.

      I saw so many varieties of trees on the trip, in so many settings, but I think it’s true that they share that experience of waiting. In fact, when we’re forced to deal with nature’s extremes, like drought, it may give us a chance to experience life as a tree does. When longing — as for rain — meets human limits, it can be a real test.

  3. I like the idea of the tree waiting for the birds. The shrubs (mostly chokecherry) near my bird feeder have lost their leaves too and are now filled with birds awaiting their turns to dart in and grab a sunflower seed. It works out well for them all.

    1. The birds have their own sort of waiting to do. It’s fun to think of your birds in those bare chokecherry branches, waiting for you and the banquet that you represent.

      When I returned from my trip, the feeders had been mostly empty for three weeks. It took all of about five minutes for the birds to return after I filled them. I couldn’t help wondering if they’d rotated responsibilities as sentinels, leaving one bird to keep an eye on things and alert the others when the food showed up again!

  4. I see the poem as dealing with a symbol from Nature, transition, dormancy, perhaps a deep sleep, or even a dream. I agree so much with the comment that bare trees teaches us so many lessons.

      1. Sometimes I wish the Church season of Advent had a better PR team. With its themes of waiting and receptivity, it could be a lovely antidote to the frenzied commercialism that surrounds us — but I fear it wouldn’t be much of a match for the marketers at this point.

    1. I like that interpretation: particularly your mention of dormancy, and deep sleep. I love the winter solstice, and the thought of the earth lying fallow. It’s not at all unnatural, but part of a process necessary for spring’s new growth. As for nature, so for humans, or so I think. In a way, our daily sleep is a shedding of the day’s cares, much as a tree sheds it’s leaves. Of course, our cycle’s much shorter, and we “re-leaf” much faster, but there are parallels.

  5. Waiting and hoping — two hallmarks of Advent. Beautiful Etheree, Linda, and I love the sunshiny day with this tree’s branches lifted up toward the sky! In contrast, we haven’t seen the sun in many a day now, and it’s positively gloomy (though a perfect time for writing, ha!)

    There’s something rather sad about a tree without its dresses. Only in winter do trees stand so naked, exposed to often-cruel winds, biting temperatures, and icy snow. I wonder if they, too, long for summer’s breezes and a host of new life in their branches?

    1. It was a sunny day, Debbie, but dust-hazy in this location because of the harvesting going on. Even the Cimarron riverbed was nothing but sand, rock, and dust, since it flows underground except in spring and summer. it really was interesting, and I thought the faded sky set off the tree beautifully.

      Every time I see a tree that’s lost its leaves suddenly enough that they’re arrayed around the bottom of the trunk, and haven’t blown away, I remember a line or two from Annie Dillard: “Don’t believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place?” The woman has a point!

  6. I never think of bare trees as sad. “Long emptied of pretension,” they are sculptural and willingly stripped to bare essence. Waiting/planning/preparing for the new season ahead.

    The moonlight would be lovely with this tree. Shaped words, thoughts, and tree!

    There’s a big bare tree near pine gully (near the old RR track columns) that is so elegant – and usually loaded with assorted birds – if it ever stops raining, we should go have a look

    1. “Willingly stripped to bare essence” — except in a hurricane or tornado, perhaps. But cyclones differ from the natural cycles of the year, and recovery is slower and less predictable. Still, it happens. Anyone who doesn’t believe that should drive through Galveston, or up 146 toward Dayton and Liberty.

      I need to spend more time over in Pine Gully. Clearly, I’ve been around enough to spot the bayou (!) but I certainly don’t know the territory as well as I’d like. I didn’t know until this weekend that the lovely swath of wetlands on the way to Galveston (the John M. O’Quinn I-45 Estuarial Corridor) has a couple of nice areas for fishing and birdwatching, too. Virginia Point is one; Reitan Point is another. Even here at home, there are wonderful places to visit — and yes, we should.

        1. What a read that was. I knew O’Quinn was a hotshot Houston lawyer, but I’d forgotten the details of his most famous litigation, and the manner of his death. The estuaries are a fine legacy: one that’s being well-tended and expanded.

  7. And releasing a beauty all of its own, shorn of pretensions, as you say, Linda. And, as you mentioned earlier, looking much like a tree I featured in my North Dakota blog. –Curt

    1. It would be hard to place either of them, wouldn’t it? It strikes me that, apart from the trees themselves, their settings are remarkably similar. The North Dakota prairies and the high plains of Kansas have a lot in common, after all, starting with a whole lot of horizon, A single tree, or even two or three, bring life to the space around them, and these seem to be exceptional life-bringers.

    1. Not far from me, there’s a farm with huge live oaks in front of the house. Every year, they hang a few lighted orbs from the trees’ branches. The ornaments aren’t many, but they are big — perhaps three feet across — and they’re marvelous to see.

      Every time I look at this tree, I have an impulse to hang one of those wonderful, sparkly decorations from its branches. Its emptiness seems to be begging to be filled. Perhaps that’s why it seemed appropriate to me to think of it as an Advent tree.

  8. I’ve always liked the form of bare trees. The tree and your thoughtful words compliment each other, but stripped bare and waiting reminds me of the doctor’s examining room. :)

    1. Now, that’s funny. And the first thing it reminded me of? Sitting across from the principal in her office, while she takes her sweet time in saying something. Anything. (I was good, but I wasn’t perfect.)

      We’re almost to real leaf-dropping time here. One of these days, the cypress are going to drop their needles, all at once, and then winter will be here.

    1. I plucked my samples of sagebrush, curlycup gumweed, and mentzelia not far from here, in an area that seemed less silvery-gray and more golden: probably because of the different color of the plants. It was fun to see such variety in a landscape that, ten years ago, would have seemed flat and unchanging.

    1. I’m glad you found it pleasing, Otto. Finding those “different takes” isn’t always easy, but when it happens, it’s satisfying. Even these colors are different — as far from our seasonal reds and greens as can be — but that’s part of what made me happy with the image.

  9. The skeletal frame of a bare tree, the bark bleached, is one of the icons of winter, These trees stand there as if in defiance of the season, The landscape would be a sorry state without trees like this.

    During a spell of very cold weather I found myself singing one of my favourite carols: In the Bleak Midwinter. The lines: ‘Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone’ so succinct but so eloquent.

    1. They are beautiful, aren’t they? Icon is a good word. Like religious icons, they point beyond themselves, to a larger reality. And of course, when they stand alone, they become even more compelling: at least, to my eye.

      “In The Bleak Midwinter” is one of my favorites, too. For years, I happily sang it without knowing that the words were penned by Christina Rossetti. It tickles me now that the third verse was excised for use in our hymnals: no doubt because of delicate sensibilities.

      I’ve always liked the line that follows what you quoted: “Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow…” And my favorite online version is from a service at Gloucester Cathedral.

      1. Yes I love that following line too. Every year on Christmas Eve, I listen to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge. It’s a family tradition that dates back to my childhood – my father was a church organist and the hour of that broadcast was sacrosanct. It wouldn’t be Christmas without that.

        1. The traditions that “make Christmas” are as varied as our families, but they’re all important. Listening to the Festival of Lessons and Carols is a particularly lovely way to evoke memories of Christmases past.

  10. We saw many dead trees like the one in your photo when we traveled through Southern Colorado and Kansas. As an English major, I can never look at anything dead without dredging up all the symbolism of the natural course of things. Dead trees up on our road conjure up fears of fire and contagion. Your photo is beautiful. Saw Kayti today for tea and a cookie. She may paint your photo yet. That would be very cool.

    1. It was interesting to see some of these trees, or portions of them, on the ground. Clearly, the invisible Cimarron river rises up from time to time, and has the power to uproot. There were plenty of lovely, living cottonwoods around, still clad in their autumn color, but none of them were far from water, and many of them were “next door” to the stretch of apparently dead or dying trees. I had so many questions when I stopped at the ranger station, I forgot to ask about the differences in the trees.

      From Point of Rocks, it was thought-provoking to see how much grassland had been taken over by woody shrubs and trees. I know they do prescribed burning there, but some areas clearly haven’t burned for quite some time. I’ve been learning about the effects of fire on prairies, and it’s fascinating. Fire sometimes is a horror, but it has its place in the natural order.

  11. Meant to mention, after I saw your tag, that we stayed in Cimarron, at the only bed and breakfast, right on Highway 50. That was the day that we got out of Dodge City twice…went there to eat east of Cimarron and didn’t find anything open, came back to Cimarron and had a miserable dinner, went back to Dodge City for breakfast and then left. What a hoot!

    1. I stayed in Dodge City three years ago. I remember a restaurant with a rather large bison atop its roof, but I can’t find a photo of it online. What I do still have is the tumbleweed I picked up the morning I got out of Dodge, heading west. It’s lived atop a cabinet since then. I fear if I touched it, it might fall apart, so I leave it alone.

  12. Lovely image and words. Appreciate all the imagery. Hopefully the bare branches will be adorned with avian delights soon. As for us, no such chance. It’s -21C now which is -6F as I’m writing now. Birds are all hiding, so are people like me. Albeit in the shopping malls, there are crowds of brave bodies!

    1. Warmth is the one good reason I can think of to go to a shopping mall. Even then, a library would be better. Suddenly, there are reports of snow from so many places. I know it’s December, and it’s supposed to be snowing, but still — it feels like it arrived so quickly this year. I’m sure part of the reason is that we’ve been so warm — it’s more of a surprise than it would have been if we’d been gradually cooling.

      Right now, it’s 40 degrees where this tree stands. There might be a raptor in its branches, but I’ll bet any other birds are down in the grasses. I would be!

    1. I’m always loathe to jump directly into Christmas postings after Thanksgiving: particularly when something appropriate to the calendar and the Advent season’s realities suggests itself. Besides — this tree was so beautiful, I had to find some way to share it.

  13. It is always a pleasure to read your poetry (Etheree) where each work is chosen so carefully, beautifully. Bare trees show their true shape and character when the leaves have fallen. I like to discover them differently. And patient they are when waiting for the birds to come. At this Season, crows, magpies and blackbirds are their most common visitors. Dark silhouettes against dark branches. An interesting design. Thanks for showing us your beautiful Advent tree.

    1. We don’t have magpies, but we have crows and blackbirds, and I think they are wonderful. They irritate some people with their noise and occasional bad behavior, but I like to think of them as cheeky, and bold.

      Like you, I love to see the shapes of trees when their leaves have fallen. And bare trees cast such wonderful, sometimes spooky, shadows. When I was a child, my parents’ bedroom overlooked large maples with a street light behind them. I’d lay in bed and watch them wave their limbs — sometimes I’d shiver because I was cold, and sometimes I would shiver because I imagined them alive!

      A peaceful rest of the Advent season to you, Isa. Christmas soon will be here!

  14. I so like “Stripped/ more bare/ as a starting point. It invites the reader into vulnerability. There is a staggering beauty in seeing the tree just outside of our house, some 60 to 70 feet high, framing the sky with zigs and zags where once a forest of green stayed the sun. Now is the time to peek into the sky as I wake from my nap.

    1. The changes that a poem goes through always interest me. I started off with “As/bare as/” and it just wasn’t right. Once the right starting point came to me, the rest fell more easily into place. I’m glad you like it, too.

      After so much time, many of our trees turned this week. The color of some was brilliant — beautiful against a clear blue sky — but they lasted only a day. Now, with 40 mph winds, I have plenty of bare trees to look at, too. In another 24 hours, there will be more. Like you, I find beauty in them all. Looking up’s worthwhile, even in the bleak midwinter.

  15. Quiet, simple…Perfect! (Your poem.) this is how I like to spend the holiday season..without pretension, surrounded by quietness. Hope you have an enjoyable Christmas Linda. DM

    1. Our inclinations are similar, DM. I enjoy the traditions, both secular and sacred, but there’s nothing quite like Christmas Eve and Christmas night, when the world finally hushes. Whether I’m in the city or country, I enjoy being out on those evenings. You just never know who — or what — you might encounter.

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