When Birches Bend and Other Lessons of Winter

By Delaney, Steve | The Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 1998 | Go to article overview

When Birches Bend and Other Lessons of Winter


Delaney, Steve, The Christian Science Monitor


Birch trees still bend, just as Robert Frost said they do, decades ago, before I ever met a birch.

When I met Robert Frost in the pages of an anthology of poets judged safe for schoolchildren, I was living where birches don't grow, and I was of an age when I thought the most important thing about birches was that clever Indians made canoes from their bark.

But then a teacher had me read what Robert Frost thought was special about birches. With apologies for the lines deleted by the pressure of time, here's that lesson: When I see birches bent to left and right across the lines of straighter, darker trees, I like to think some boy's been swinging them. But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay, as ice storms do. The idea of swinging on a tree that would be kind enough to bend and set me down again after a free ride was enough to fuel the imagination. So I became a fan of birches, thanks to Robert Frost. This season the birches have bent, under the weight of ice that sparkles so in the sunlight that it's easy to see why the makers of slang decided to call diamonds "ice." They'll stay bent for a while, and then under the influence of sap and sunlight they will straighten up. But only so far. Birches are not good soldiers in the regiments of trees in the northern forest. …

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