Trees: Beautiful Bones

I love November. Bare, brown, sparse, uncluttered. The gorgeous October foliage is long gone, crumpled underfoot. As one of my favorite writers, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, said, “Now let us see the bones, the beautiful bones of the trees.”

The pattern of branches against the sky is a thing beloved of artists and photographers. Severe simple beauty.

But the pattern isn’t accidental. It’s filled with purpose. Every inch of branch and twig grew as it did for a reason.


A tree can’t live without sun to power its inner food-factory. So it has to expend a lot of energy to grow structures that hold the leaves in just the right place. Each twist and turn of every twig maximizes the amount of sun each leaf is exposed to.

There’s two main ways to get more sun. First, reach up.














Trees in a forest tend to be taller than their counterparts that stand alone in the middle of a field. They’re forced by competition to grow faster and ever higher. (There’s a life lesson in there somewhere, I suppose.)

Or you can reach sideways, the sneakier method. Stretch out wide and broaden your outlook to soak up sunlight.



There’s a lot of fierce and nasty competition going on up there over our heads. Look how this tree reaches out to steal sun from its trembling neighbors. 



Wherever two trees meet, they shove each other aside–subtly and slowly shading out their competitor. One’s gonna win and one’s gonna lose.  

Now that the leaves are gone, we can see the bones of the trees–alive, as our bones are, even in the dead of winter.


All these beautiful trees are on the campus of the Highlights Foundation at Boyds Mills, PA, a sort of heaven for writers.

About unmowed

I'm a writer and a botanist who loves the weirdly weedy places of the world.
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