Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pine Forest in Snow

There is a distinct simplicity in the joy I felt as a child during the Christmas season.  I was fortunate enough to have parents who happily engaged my siblings and me in the lore of St. Nicolas and the spirit of the holidays.  As Thanksgiving would come to an end, the following weekend would mark the beginning of the ritual of pulling down boxes from the garage rafters and sifting through the piles of Christmas lights and decorations.  During the week before Christmas, mom would begin a whirlwind of baking and dad would take us on forays to the local super store where we'd hastily move through crowds in search of the perfect presents.  On that fateful morn, my brother and sister and I would barely need to awaken as we'd head to the family room as the sun came up.  Our eyes would bulge with glee seeing Santa's footprints along the edge of the fireplace, the cookie plate littered with crumbs, and our stockings overflowing with treats and goodies.  It was extraordinarily special.

For the unique thing about Christmas was the flood of excitement and wintery feelings we would have.  No other time of the year or occasion would come close.  We'd pick out a real pine tree, the lights would be up and twinkling, garland would be hung about the house, tinsel, snowflake cut-outs on the windows above the sprayed on snow, Frosty classroom assignments dangling from the refrigerator door; it was the greatest time of my life and the source of emotions other holidays could not replicate.  And though I don't have a family of my own, I cherish the thoughts of perpetuating the same feelings in my future children.  In fact, the very idea of nostalgia I would argue stems directly from experiences young minds have during this particular holiday season.  And even though we lived in mild, sunny California, we weren't without the dreamy imaginations of snow and the crisp chill in the air that ushered in December 25.

Yet at times I feel these emotions have become muddied and it tears at my heart.  Since growing up and becoming an independent man, I've had my fair share of Christmas days spent alone, nary a phone call, card, or even a gift.  Frankly, I don't even care much to dwell on those moments as they are horrific memories I sometimes fear I've not finished experiencing.  Furthermore, they are the antithesis of what this time of year means for my family and me.  But I'd be remiss if I did not mention that there have been times Christmas was not ideal.  And on those days, I felt as if a small part of who I am died.

Fortunately, I have an incredible family riddled with little tykes who warm my very soul with their innocent faces, loving hearts, and similar passions for Christmas.  Though I'm no longer a child and can't yet share my own experiences with my own offspring, spending the holidays with my niece and nephews fulfills my inner-Christmas spirit just enough.

Pine Forest in Snow by Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is a black and white photograph of a forest in Yosemite National Park, California.  Depicted are needle-less Sugar Pines densely packed together after a fresh dusting of snow, showing us their twisted and intertwined branches as they give pause to the season.  It's almost as if their wrestling for sunlight has been frozen and we're given a chance to see the intimate interaction between each tree we normally would miss.

Masterfully framed, Adams captures a moment of Winter that evokes the sentimental values many of us place on the season.  The child-like parts of our hearts and minds can immediately picture the potential for adventurous frolicking should we find ourselves facing this same forest.  The idea of being in the woods playing in snow that appears so soft and untouched, it almost feels cozy to imagine.

And yet, among the branches is an implied pattern quality and an illusion of movement that radiates a subtle sense of havoc--maybe even horror.  If you remove the element of personal experience and just gaze at how the photograph flows, you begin to feel uneasy--almost claustrophobic at the stealthy implications of chaos.  Thus, it is easily one of the most gorgeous photographs of trees in Winter explicitly blending still-life with expressionism.

The qualities of Christmas as a holiday and as a season have been captured.  It is in the eyes of the beholder, though for each of us, some form of connection to how this time of year felt to us as children can be found in this photo.  Perhaps my own insight has given way to what perspectives I can immediately identify with but I'm merely sharing my own thoughts on this work of art.  I do admit to feeling saddened at the thought of having to spend another Christmas alone but I'm not forgetting to keep myself in check.  It would be morally irresponsible of me lest I forget the hundreds of thousands who never get to enjoy the same things I have and will.

While the idea of viewing Adams' photo could yield an even greater sense of fear and spurn adamant feelings of "Bah, humbug," perhaps it isn't such a bad thing.  For some, it could reinvigorate the spirit of the season.  For others, it could encourage change and provoke a desire to find new meaning.  For a few, it's just a picture.

As Shakespeare once said, "This above all: To your own self, be true."

Merry Christmas, everyone!  Merry Christmas, indeed.

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