My husband and I love to visit the area around Stowe, VT. We’ve been going there for long weekends for the past four or five years. We go whenever it works out for our two schedules, so oftentimes we are there at off-season times. Sometimes we can go during the peak seasons that draw the leaf-peepers or ski bunnies out in great numbers, but often we go during the in-between times when the locals can enjoy having their towns back to themselves, or take a break.
The fall foliage is spectacular, of course. Leaf Peepers have been flocking to Vermont for ages to see the hues of color thrown across the rolling mountains like crocheted blankets. There is a vibrancy that is energizing. Walking and hiking through the colored forests is a feast for the eyes and the spirit.
The wonderland that comes from winter – when the trees are dripping with snows and the landscape is white – is quiet and majestic. It fills me with awe and reverence; there is something holy about it. I become entranced by the ice formations that stretch from the eaves, and the swirling, snowy winds. Skiing or playing in the snow is athletic and exciting. And being cozy in front of a fire, winter is meditative and ripe for contemplation and relaxing deeply.
Spring feels like the whole state is mating: Mother Nature is gearing up for a green and pregnant spring and summer. I love the smell of manure for some reason — it takes me back to times spent out in the Texas farmland country near where I grew up. That smell abounds in spring in Vermont, along with the incredible perfume of budding flowers. There is so much promise in spring and summer. Hope and lightness. Everything feels possible.
The traditional four seasons in Vermont are legendary and I love them. But it is the other two that have taught me the most.
We discovered Mud Season one year: some call it the fifth season. At the time, we’d never heard of it. It is the transition between winter and spring when the dirt roads become mucky from thawing snows. It is amazing in its own ways. To me, it feels like the whole state is waking up. It is mucky and messy, a reminder to me that all growth is messy.
Growth requires mess. When I am growing, my life feels almost unrecognizable at times. I often panic: what is happening, why do I feel like my life is falling apart, that I am falling apart. I feel uncomfortable in my skin, even, as if it doesn’t quite fit right anymore.
Now I can know it’s my own personal mud season. I can relax into the mess of it: come to see it as a good sign. It means I am making a deep change and things are thawing out. I am flooding my own well-travelled roads, creating muck, and from the muck, I will form new pathways, new ways of being within myself and in the world.
Things will clear up again. The world will feel familiar again, a new paradigm shift will have settled. The newness will wear off and I will recognize my self and my world again. New growth will come, and I will flourish.
Just this week, we discovered a new season to add to the five seasons of Vermont beauty.
Stick Season. We had no idea when we booked our trip to Stowe for Thanksgiving break that we had chosen Stick Season. We had called our favorite local restaurant to make a reservation and instead got a voicemail message that said they were “closed for stick season.” I looked it up.
Vermonters refer to the period of time between the foliage season and the snow season as Stick Season: the fall/winter transition after the leaves have fallen and before snow has settled on the trees. Naked trees = stick season.
Now as it happened, in the days before we arrived, there were early snows which thrust us into a premature winter-like Thanksgiving which was gorgeous.
But in our last few days there, the temps rose again and the snow melted, and there we saw it: stick season.
I suppose some people may find it stark or bare, the landscape lacking the lush, pregnant greens of spring or the gloriously-colored hues of fall. My husband found it somewhat depressing-looking. I get that: trees are stripped down to their skeletons; the lack of color to the eye. Most of the birds have gone to warmer climes, so it is an empty quiet, not the whispery-full quiet of snow-covered earth.
But to me, there are unexpected gifts to be found in the season of stick.
We could see the structures that are usually hidden by leaves: it was like discovering whole hidden pockets of life within the towns we thought we knew so well. We kept being surprised at discovering homes and structures that we’d had no idea were there.
There were still some shocks of color: subdued colors that are perhaps usually overshadowed by the flashier foliage and fauna of the usual seasons. They broke out against the grey in a muted but welcome visual reminder that behind the brightest and the loudest often stand other beauties valuable of our attention, if we pay attention. Red-browns that were formerly overlooked as they were surrounded by reds and oranges and greens finally had our attention, and my hungry eyes drank them in with gratitude.
And the trees themselves, so bare and simple without their normal adornment, seemed elegant and brave to me. I felt I was seeing their core essence, and I could feel their presence and wisdom resonating in different ways than when they overflow with their plumage.
Their stark, bare beauty reminded me of my mother, towards the end of her battle with cancer. I had always seen my mother’s beauty. But at the end, it was if she had been stripped down to some pure essence of her soul. It was as if anything extraneous had fallen away and what was left was the sheer perfection of her human spirit. She radiated a kind of centeredness and a knowing that I could not yet know. She was stunning.
Those trees in stick season felt that way to me. They know things I can not yet know. They know a bigger picture than I can conceive of. I am drawn to be with them, to feel their wisdom, to allow my own excess of spirit to fall away, to strip my own spirit of what I can to get down to the skeleton of who I am. To remember what really matters to me in this world.
Those final days with my mother brought me a clarity of purpose that I had never known before. At her side, I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be, doing the most important work of my life.
It was her stick season, and she knew it on some level. Being in Vermont’s stick season brought it all back to me, that clarity of perspective that being with a dying loved one can bring. It’s one of the many gifts that death can offer.
Stick season. I feel like at this time in my life, I am in a kind of stick season right now. I have the desire to become stripped bare of my habitual ways of being in the world. I am finding out who I really am underneath the masks and the costumes of the plumage of my spring and summer. I am sitting with what is really there in me and letting myself feel naked and vulnerable. I have come to know my pure essence, and I am in the process of allowing my self to be truly seen.
Dead branches drop off healthy, living trees all the time, and wood knots appear in the trunk where branches died. Knots are imperfections that cause living wood grain to grow around them. Isn’t that amazing? In the brilliance of that living and growing wood, knots have formed. They are a testament to the life force within a tree, to their growth ability.
I will no longer hide my knots. I will know that there is a kind of beauty in them, too.
I know that there will be new growth in me again. I will dress again in my plumage, but it will reflect the new colors of what I have found within. Mother Nature gives me comfort and faith in the process of growth: she evidences that truth every day of every year. I need not fear what is happening. It is just Stick Season, after all.
#treetherapy #vermont #theseasons #stickseason
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