We woke up this morning to snow. A winter storm has finally arrived to Saint Louis and all I want to do is sleep the day away. My kids of course are elated. They want to go outside. They want to build snowman and play snow angels. And I simply want hot tea with some blueberry scones. To indulge them, we watched from our window, snow falling from the sky. I looked and saw most of our trees covered in snow. My mind kept wandering out loud, how do trees survive the stress of freezing temperatures. I did a little reading and discovered that when trees are exposed to freezing temperatures, all aspects of their being are exposed to ice.

Some trees adapt by either escaping, avoiding, or tolerating extreme cold temperatures. With escaping, trees shed their leaves in the Fall and into winter periods. No wonder, most trees are leafless during winter. It’s as if they take the time to shed dead lifeless weight during the fall. With avoidance, trees undergo a deep supercooling process, whereby the water within cells remain in liquid phase even at sub-zero temperatures. So irrespective of how low or sub freezing temperatures may get, water within trees remain in unfrozen condition. So there maybe chaos all around, super cold ones too, but internally, the key things that make you whole remain intact, oblivious to the chaos. Finally some trees simply tolerate the freezing temperatures. They do so via a host of biochemical adaptations that enable them to loose their cellular water to extra cellular ice, which in turn, allows the trees to tolerate freezing temperatures and the process of ice in their tissues. In some cases the cells of these trees undergo dehydration as they tolerate the stresses associated with the presence of ice in its tissues.

I tried to imagine what I would do if I were a tree, and honesty I would simply escape. Of course, staying intact or tolerating life’s chaotic moments seems reasonable, but I still hate to freeze and escaping makes more manageable sense to me. So I’ll escape. Anything to shed dead weight will do. We have been in a season of escaping since the pandemic began, that it only makes sense to live like trees in the middle of a snowstorm. Words are not living, cannot breathe or walk, but can allow us to escape all the moments we find ourselves freezing. I am using words to escape in ways trees escape in preparation for freezing stress. Read below.

We woke up to an escape.

We could either avoid or tolerate.

Our trees were covered with snow.

Tall ones, and small ones in an icy bloom.

To see trees covered in ice.

To see branches exposed to freezing stress.

Unreasonable episodes of frost.

Made me stop to ponder, how do trees survive freezing?

Survive being covered in ice.

Survive unimaginable freezing stress.

Survive even as it snows.

I remember leaves shedding in the fall.

By winter, most trees were leafless.

Could it be to first survive, you must shed,

All things lifeless and small

All things soundless that fall

All things needless that stall

All things restless that bawl

All things aimless that sprawl

All things helpless that gall

All things useless you haul

These things are worthless in snowfall.

Grief is love unexpressed. I learnt that today watching an Instagram video of Andrew Garfield as he talked about the passing of his mom. To him, grief is a beautiful thing. Grief is also unexpressed love. He hoped his grief will remain with him as he never got time to express all the love even though he expressed it all the time. So he hoped that this grief stays with him for as long as he lives. Listening to him got me thinking about my summer of grief with Angie’s passing. All that I wrote, both those shared and unshared are all the unexpressed love I had for her. I can still hear her voice. I still hear her calling my name and I miss talking to her terribly. His message also came at the right time.

We cut down a tree in front of our home early this month. It was an Oak tree and it’s roots were buried deeply into the ground. We cut it down because there was a hole the size of a soccer ball at the bottom of the tree. On the outside the tree still seemed to have life and some leaves, but internally it was rotten to its core. Rather than waiting for the day it decided to fall, we felt it was time to let it rest, hence the decision to cut it down. About five men came together to do the job. This was a huge tree and they spent hours cutting down one branch after another, until they got to the bottom and brought the entire tree down. We watched from afar, mesmerized as something so large came down back to the earth.

The day before Thanksgiving, we planted a new tree near the spot where the old tree came down. It was a gift to my husband from his coworkers for the death of his sister, our dearest Angie. I called back in October to let the company know the type of trees we would love. They recommended a tree whose name I cannot remember but promised its leaves would be red in the fall. I accepted and agreed to their selection. He noted they would come in November to plant the tree as this Fall is typically the best time to plant trees. He noted they would go to sleep anyways and wake up in time during spring. On Wednesday, our sleepy tree arrived. As we watched them dig deep into the earth, I realize just what I am truly thankful for this year. Life and Grief.

We are all sleepy beings passing through the earth, one life at a time. One tree at a time. Every tree we plant, every root we bury deep into the earth, is life worth roaring for. Life worth grieving for too. Every root is set firmly in place and cannot be moved. Every grief too is love unexpressed and cannot be disapproved. I approve this grief, just as I approve your ability to live your life in your own way. Everything glorious and majestic surrounds us when we are rooted deep into the earth. Everyone of us is protected, not oppressed when we are rooted in life, in grief, in God. This is grief at its finest, rooted deeply in us when we rethink its core. It is truly love unexpressed, a beautiful thing that I hope will remain with us just like this tree we planted in Angie’s memory. Keep the power of unexpressed love with grief.

2021 started with icy rain. The intensity of the rain seemed to have it’s greatest impact on the the trees around our house. They were full of ice. Almost all the tree crown turned into ice. As I looked at them, I couldn’t help but imagine how trees survive freezing, icy rain. It’s probably the same way I survived being a working mother to three homeschooled children in the middle of a pandemic. We were all covered with ice.

An icy tree.

On any given day, trees that are healthy prior to the start of winter are more likely to survive freezing or icy rain and recover more quickly compared to unhealthy trees. These trees also have to be prepared to acquire or mobilize sufficient resources especially following injuries such as from freezing icy rain, otherwise they may literally die. Let me repeat the again, for myself too. Without resources at hand, resources mobilized or gathered before, maybe during, and after the experience of any stressful events, trees may literally die.

Motherhood for me in 2020 was an accumulation of all sorts of resources, mobilized to help me sustain and survive the silence, the stress, even the stillness of being a working parent in the middle of a pandemic. Books, all sorts of books helped as well as active participation in homeschooling. This was a huge priority given my children are under 8 years of age. Then there were prayers, all sorts of prayers, but especially psalm 91 and 121. Isaiah 43 made me stand in awe of my maker. The idea that when I pass through deep waters, he would be there, made me feel so deeply loved and precious. That and giving up Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba (maybe present day Eritrea) to save me, got me through a very tough year.

Now and because of their size and in preparation for winter, most trees accumulate most of their resources ahead of time and mobilize them during periods of stress. The probability of survival depends on a trees’ access to resources. So to was motherhood for me. That I survived 2020 intact, is because I know whose I am, come freezing ice or rain. Nikki Giovanni once stated that ‘once you know who you are, you don’t have to worry any more.’ Like trees who survive freezing, icy rain, 2020 reminded me of the author of my life, the one who started the journey, whose I am. It helped me mobilize the resources necessary to survive the most crucial test and struggle of a lifetime, being a mother, a homeschool teacher, all while working in academia. That I survived intact is because like trees, I focused on my resources, especially what mattered the most to me. In the New Year, keep being like trees, especially and during icy rainy days. Begin to mobilize the resources that matter to you, accumulate all of them and prepare to survive whatever the year has in store for you on your own terms, in your own way.