Place Where You Live:

Elkton, Maryland

Witch tree on a winter morning

Yesterday, snow mixed with bits of icy rain fell softly as I watched from my kitchen window. I scanned my acre of meadow backed by a copse of trees. The largest tree I think of as the witch tree. Some branches still bear leaves in the summer; others have been barren for years. The tree spins her incantations with the help of the wind and creates magic in my back yard. Each season she attracts a different type of bird. Last summer a woodpecker drummed her trunk up and down, searching for insects that eat her dead wood from the inside out. In the fall, a red-tailed hawk discovered the tree’s highest branches as the best vantage point for surveying potential prey.

On this snowy morning, an unusual trio of black forms seemed to hang like lanterns from her branches. I looked closely and saw that the forms weren’t hanging, but actually were perched securely against the falling snow and ice crystals.

The three turkey buzzards were contemplative, religious even. Black feathers puffed against the cold shrouded them like members of an archaic sect that long ago fell out of favor. Unmoved by elements or contemporary ideas of spirit, they had stationed themselves on the left side of the witch tree and would not budge. I watched them as I drank my coffee and waited for some movement. Surely they would soon seek shelter; the witch tree offered no protection. The wind picked up. They remained, inscrutable. The snow continued to fall. Still they were immobile.

I left the kitchen, fed my cats, and put on my work clothes. When I returned I was amazed to find the black lanterns still hanging, just as I had left them. As I packed my lunch and made another cup of coffee for the slushy commute, the trio remained. With snow and sleet swirling around them, they had not stirred once in that hour. I almost expected to find them meditating in the witch tree when I came home that evening. Instead the tree was bare, her acolytes vanished to some secret cloister.