Surprised by Sparsity

Pines tower above, boasting the few needles that were strong enough to bear the weight of the wintry mix of the week prior. Majestic and strong, the graceful giants taunt bare hickories and sweet gums — runts of the forest, bereft of beauty. But are they?

I squash their remnants beneath my feet: old sweet gum balls, dead hickory leaves. Once crowns of glory, they press between rubber and dirt at each stride. For an instant, I remember what once was — muggy air, buzzing mosquitoes, lush green leaves as far as the eye could see. And for an instant, I miss it: the familiarity of the beauty of my well-trodden path, the fullness of the trees in the forest.

But the emptiness, the loss, the lack? They give me space to see. Room to appreciate the beauty in sparsity.

I look in wonder at the naked trees, enjoying the sky all gray. It’s not the normative embodiment of beauty, but it’s mine today. Every curve in the bark conspicuously bending on each trunk, still damp from the earlier rain, halts me. The whistle of the wind rushing through the trees — rather, the splashing of a surging brook — delights me. I gape when it dawns on me that the steady stream, normally a dry gorge, is only made possible by the remnant of last week’s ice; pure delight made possible by loss. By less.

What I see now — emptiness creating space to see further & gaze higher, landscape widening unclouded by greenery, conclusion that as much beauty is in lack as is in fullness — they all seem like a big secret, yet a quiet whisper.

I smile when I realize: I’ve found the surprise in this day’s sunrise.

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