Leafless Trees

As winter is again crouching near this quiet, peaceful land of central PA, I once more saw those leafless branches harshly imprinted on the purplish hue of the horizon.

When I was in Vietnam, my favorite pastime every afternoon in winter after classes was to bike around the small city, letting the cold monsoonal winds tap on my face. The air carried with it the aromas of that land: the smell of dust, the fragrance of street food, and the unmistakable yet indefinable scent of winter. Above all, I would happily and silently admire the thin vulnerable-looking branches. I did not know why, but I felt peace in my mind looking up to those harsh figures on the grey sky background. I found a moment of silence in my soul; I dug deep into that quietness, shutting myself out from the surroundings; I tried to look for the components of that emotion, thinking hard about the sophistication of human’s minds. But I would always fail to come up with any decent answers and would stare at the trees again in confusion.

I carried that confusion along with me in my long trip across the Pacific Ocean and North America continent, to the faraway land in Pennsylvania. Numerous times I found my blank look at the leafless trees outside the windows. The confusion only grew bigger and bigger as time passed by and winter became so noticeable. Every early morning, in the chilly cold, as I was walking to classes, I looked up at those dry branches reaching out like creepy arms of a dying creature. I would slow down a bit, smile happily. My little hands would press against my elbows a little harder just to give me the fake feeling of getting warmer. But inside, I could again sense the inexplicable peace I once felt back in my tropical hometown. And every early Saturday morning, I would wander around the deserted campus with the camera, trying to capture as much as possible the soul of winter. The persistence of the trees standing in freezing cold, the strength of feeble branches carrying white, pure snow, the loneliness of an empty bird nest shaking in the wind, the overwhelming height of the maples penetrating the shady sky, the soundless scream rustling through the air, and above all, the latent energy hidden in those lifeless forms, ready to spring into life when the first sign of spring came. Everything seemed dead and depressing, but I could picture colorful buds of flowers, sealed inside, waiting to sprout up lively. I would then stand in admiration of miraculous nature, of the resilience these frail branches buried within. The inspiration from my winter trees brought me forward, through hardship and lonely moments. As I sat by the window sipping hot chocolate from the cup in my cold bony hands and looked through the photos I took, the pieces of my emotion mosaic gradually revealed: coldness, solitude, and melancholy on the edges, grayness and suppression on the background. Standing out in the center on that background were determination to overcome adversity and burst out into life, hope in the future full of colors and liveliness and desire to reach up higher and higher, like the maple tree.

So I kept on wandering, recording my life in still images so that years later, when I became older and life turned me cynical and pessimistic, I would remember the cozy calmness and bright hope I always felt against the cold and gloom.


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