I sit in front of the window to write. A small desk is built into its frame, made from an old slab of maple that was milled with a chain saw by a friend. The slab has worm holes along its forward edge from the years it stood on a hillside in western Massachusetts. The mill marks on its top have been sanded satin smooth.
The window provides a view of my small dandelion- and daisy-freckled yard, the bird feeder, the garden beds, and the woods beyond. I like the dandelions. And that my lawn flowers.
In the middle of April, I noticed the plum tree was just beginning to blossom. Three tiny pink stars had pushed their way past newly emerging copper-purple leaves. I got up from my desk to look more closely. I held a flower gently, like a tiny bird, in my fingers. And as my eyes moved along the stem to the branch, then down the branch’s length to the trunk, something I had surely always known burst into my consciousness like a completely new idea: Trees flower.
I let the thought settle in.
I had watched this tree all winter from my window. It was stark and brittle each cold, blue morning. It showed no hint of softness. And now, before even one fully formed leaf has emerged, its first act is to produce, from winter-hardened wood, this impossibly delicate and colorful thing.
Of course trees flower. I’ve seen it many times. But becoming used to something doesn’t make that thing any less absolutely miraculous. Our minds like to sort and categorize so we can expend less processing power as we move through the world. But in this streamlining for efficiency, we may lose wonder — that sense of astonishment at something new — along the way.
My mind, too, has sought to conserve its energy, placing the fact that trees flower into a category labeled “Things we already know that therefore require no further examination.” But that morning, when I held the plum blossom, the whole thing came apart. Assumption and acceptance were unsettled by wonder.
I get to live on a planet where trees flower. Just imagine if they didn’t. There are certain flowering trees that I would miss: A Callery pear down by Wellfleet Harbor that turns, for a week or so, into a puffy cloud that would float away if not tethered to the earth by its dark trunk. A magnolia on Commercial Street with hand-sized blooms a shade of yellow so soft it makes me want to take a nap. The flowers look prehistoric, coarse in their magnitude; the petals imbricate and unfold into cups of sunlight and dew as they awaken.
There’s an Eastern redbud on West Main Street; every May, before its leaves break, tiny flowers peek out from buds set tight to the trunk and stems. The tree looks as though it’s been dipped in hot pink sprinkles. And there is the thundercloud plum in my yard. Just as the bold copper foliage begins to break from its winter buds, a galaxy of delicate pink flowers pop at the terminal of each. The combination stops me in my tracks.
These trees flower every year. If I am fortunate to live a full life, the actuarial tables say I will see this happen only 76 times. I want to be astonished each and every one of them. I want each one to be filled with a sense of wonder.