One of the advantages of being in quarantine is stillness. Time seems to slow, movement becomes more intentional, and our keen sense of observation is suddenly heightened. At least that has been my experience watching for spring, and waiting for the first blooms of our magnolia tree to open.
The pink magnolia tree is a little thing (as far as magnolias go), decades-old, with two gnarled holes in its base, which I suspect are homes for woodland creatures from a fairytale. Inside, the tree was expertly hollowed out of heartwood, leaving a small basin that ends in a moss-rimmed pool. It’s a safe chamber for a woodpecker to weather out a storm, or where a squirrel can hide from the red-tailed hawk that has been gliding atop the pines lately.
I climbed this tree as a young girl, using the knobby knot to boost myself up to its main branch. I’d daydream hidden in its leaves, hoping for princes, hanging plastic eggs, but more or less watching the ants parade across the rough, grey branches and hoping they wouldn’t climb on my spindly legs. All these years later, the tree is much the same, still blooming on odd years with its eroded roots jutting through the grass, canopied by the arms of a giant oak reaching for its own piece of sunlight.
Last year, I missed the bloom. Days later, I managed a few photographs after many of the flowers had fallen to the muddy ground. I blamed the swift blooming on the fickleness of spring and the unpredictable behavior of nature.
This year, hunkered inside with the view of the branches from atop a piece of exercise equipment, I watched for a change in the buds every day. I monitored the gradual movement, the delicate and deliberate opening of tightly packed petals.
I took that time to notice the details. How the leaves come only after the bloom, and how the stems are bare, save for the short-lived flowers. I saw that the older branches, closer to the ground, had blooms of broad, milky petals, whereas the ones towards the top were smaller and sealed for an extra day. And on the clear day when the eruption of beauty finally happened, I noticed how blue the sky is and how lucky I felt to be standing under it, safe, surrounded by an umbrella of pink blossoms jostled by the wind.
I didn’t see these things last year. Of course, they happened, probably just as they had this year, but I was moving too quickly to notice them. Instead, the quarantine has made it clear that I was the one moving too fast, not the tree — her pace is steady, more predictable than mine. And that’s one of the things I love best about nature, she moves at her own speed and never faster. Her efforts may unfold slower than we anticipate, but great things take time — more time than I had to pay attention to before.
So, I’m sharing some of the photographs I took of this little old tree, steady and true, all blush and cream, hoping you see what I see when I look outside: nature. If there’s anything I can do to help you through this time, it’s to encourage you to slow down, look through your window and simply notice her.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re all staying safe!
P.S. What’s blooming near where you live?