Today, I went for a walk and saw once again the strange, interesting shapes of tall, ancient trees left damaged by the ice storm of 1998. Leafless now, they stood out in sharp contrast against the grey/white snow-filled sky. Some branches, almost severed, still hang by little more than a thread of bark. And I was struck by the fact that there will be strangely shaped trees in this area for a long time to come. Pausing to look at one tree, still oddly off-balance despite its exertion to produce new branches, I remembered the first morning of the ice storm and the branch found by a friend.

When he woke up, it was still dark out. He closed the front door and stood on the wooden porch for a moment looking at the ice crusting his world, lit by the moon. It was both terrifying and beautiful. Trees were bent under the weight of shining ice. Power lines were bowed. As he stood looking, he began to realize the awesome implications of what he was seeing.

He walked down the stairs and stepped carefully onto the slippery sidewalk. Branches of evergreen trees, encased in ice, formed a glassy canopy only a few feet above the sidewalk and he had to stoop to walk beneath them. He noticed in the moonlight refracting from countless crystals, a branch lying on the ground, severed from a tree by the weight of the ice. He walked to it and stood looking at the magnolia tree it had fallen from, wondering how it would recover, and at the branch lying on the ground, covered in tiny ice-encrusted buds. Without thinking about it he picked up the branch and carried it into the building. It was a very large branch, so he cut it into sections, arranged them in four black vases and placed them in various rooms.

Over the next few weeks, while water dripped from the trees, huge slabs of ice slid off roofs, and work crews struggled to restore power and carry away debris, the branches sat in their vases. They weren't particularly notable other than that they were nicely arranged and were of interesting shape. But they began to change. Passing them several times each day, we saw the buds become increasingly larger. And though it was deep, deep winter, they finally opened into dozens of incredibly beautiful magnolia blossoms.

What more can you do with something that has been severed from its life-source yet continues to exert itself, than arrange it well and place it where as many people as possible can see it?

A flock of pigeons sitting on a chimneystack rose into the air, interrupting my reverie, and I continued on my way under the trees. It’s cold today, but not cold enough for an ice storm.

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