There's always something a little bit funny to me about celebrating the new year of the trees when the trees where I live are leafless and resting quietly beneath snow. This year we haven't seen the ground since -- oh, sometime in the fall, I don't even remember when! It's been sparkling white for a while now. (My favorite kind of winter. If it's going to be cold, it should be cold and beautiful and crisp, like this.)
Much of the Diaspora literature on Tu BiShvat talks about how at this time of year the almond trees are blooming in Israel. (There's a glorious photograph of almond trees in bloom here at Israel the beautiful.) I grew up in south Texas, where trees will start to bloom soon; I remember the exquisite profusion of mountain laurel blooms in March, sweet as honey. So I can imagine trees flowering now...but only in another climate zone, another world. Not here in New England, where all is white.
But our tradition talks about this as the time of year when sap begins to rise in the trees, feeding them for the year to come, and that feels true to me here. (I just checked my favorite sugar shack to see when they're going to start their annual tradition of maple breakfasts; not this weekend, but next.) All around the Berkshires, trees will start sprouting tin buckets -- and their less-picturesque but easier-to-handle descendant, clear plastic tubing running from tree, to tree, to tree, to a basin somewhere downhill.
And the tradition names this as the time to remember our connections with the Tree of Life: with Torah ("she is a tree of life to all who hold her fast," Proverbs 3:18), with the divine emanations which stream forth into creation (which the kabbalists connected in an organic pattern called the Tree of Sefirot.) These resonate with me at this moment of deep winter. What better time to study the wisdom of our tradition than when we are tucked inside our warm houses like seeds waiting to sprout?
Honestly, I like celebrating the New Year of the Trees when the trees around me are dormant. It offers me a reminder that winter is finite. That spring is coming, subtly, in the hidden rising of sap beneath bark. The hidden rising of shefa, divine abundance, even when the world seems cold and inhospitable, when things long-hoped-for seem far away.
Tu BiShvat, the New Year of the Trees, falls on the Gregorian calendar this coming Sunday night and Monday. Read previous years' Tu BiShvat posts here.