Stubborn Beauty

Beautiful even in death, this gnarly tree reached out its arms as a greeting, or possibly a warning, on my way to Lincoln Lake near Mt. Evans.

I’m always delighted and often surprised by the surroundings on hikes in my native Rocky Mountains. It is a rare day when a rushing rill or a sneaky squirrel doesn’t touch my heart and lighten my spirit. Today, it was death that amazed me. The death of trees burned in a fire. A burn area with remarkable trees—trees that refused to lay down their lives. Rather than pathetic scorched snags or trunks littering the ground, what remained were beautiful brown cores with scraggly branches forever reaching out —like the arms of lovers on John Keats’ Grecian urn.

“With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
         “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
–from John Keats, Ode to a Grecian Urn

Living trees give mankind shelter, food, and medicine, and thus, have long provided us with symbolic and metaphorical fodder for life. Yet not in life, but in death, did these trees leave me a poetic freeze-frame.  The stubborn branches whispered as I walked by: Beauty is truth, truth beauty, –that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Cast in the shadow of a cloud, you can see how trees like these could conjure up the likeness of monsters or mystical beings. It is easy to see where Tolkien came up with Ents–tree creatures in Lord of the Rings.

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