A Tree That Survived Winter by Laura Ballard

The winter had been interminably long, dull and bleak. The College gardens were certainly beautiful, especially in the snow, but it was an austere beauty, painted in shades of grey. The sun rarely appeared, and when it did, it brought no warmth, just a feeble, rather sickly light. And then, imperceptibly, came changes, effecting a gradual, at first unseen transformation that escalated until suddenly, with a shout of joy, Spring banished the Winter and the sun burst through.

The sky was a vivid blue. And the gardens! Oh the gardens! First there were joyous daffodils. Where there had been grey expanses of lawn, were now brilliant green carpets with smiling daffodils everywhere. And then came the crocuses – wonderful colours – purple and orange and red, blue and pink and white. Wherever I looked, there was the same familiar garden beds, courtyards and lawns – the landscape essentially unaltered. And yet it was unrecognisably transformed, awash with colour and vibrant life. The same courtyards and pathways, no longer severe grey, but gloriously alive, window boxes proclaiming loudly Spring Is Here! Where previously the bare, twisting ropes of ivy branches imprisoned the ancient walls, now there was a delicate lacework of new green shoots giving life and colour to the old courtyards. And everywhere the beaming daffodils danced in the breezes and the lively crocuses smiled their joy.

Cambridge in Spring. An overwhelming transformation.

It has happened within me.

I am a tree.

Ravaged by the long winter, bearing the scars from where whole limbs have been ripped from me as I stood, cold and stiff, braced against the wind. I am worn and tired and bent.

But I survived.

Now, in place of the deathly silence of a still winter morning there is a riotous cacophony of bird calls demanding my attention. “Come! Wake up!” is their cry. I emerge slowly from the depths and look at this new world. Gone is the ghostly grey fog – now colours spring exuberantly from the ground. Glorious colours. I am being awakened to a new reality.

No longer do I need to be bent in on myself, hunkered down with barriers up against the winter. Shyly, I open up to greet this new world I find myself in.

I am nervous. What if the harsh winter returns – I could not bear it! Dare I open myself to this unfamiliar world that calls me to come and join in the dance of Spring? I am used to my solitary, lonely battle for survival. What if I have forgotten how to dance with the other trees? It has been so long I cannot recall what life was like before my life was banished. But Spring draws me out, irresistibly warm and colourful and inviting.

I am surprised to find that it hurts to thaw, and instinctively I seek to withdraw back to my winter place where I feel no pain, but nor joy, where I do not live, but I at least know how to survive. It seems safer there, a hard frozen safeness that would protect me from the softness of the new vulnerability’s I am feeling. But inexorably, I begin to thaw. I am warmed and softened. The breezes – soft and gentle now – tease my branches and they learn to move again. I stretch and tentatively begin to dance to the music of spring.

Now I notice changes within myself. My branches have new growth, and there are buds, full of promise and life. Then I remember! Yes! I am a fruit tree. In summer I will bear fruit and will give to others from my abundance. During those long winter months when my life seemed absent, I had forgotten who I was. But the core of me, my life-force, somehow remained intact in my secret, hidden heart, and now it has emerged and I am me again. Where before I was absent, I am now present, drawn out further and further.

I am powerless to resist. I no longer want to resist.

It is my time now. Time to resume my place in the world.

For I am not just any tree. Proudly now, I stand straight and strong and tall, head up to greet the world.

For I am a tree that survived winter.