Leaves lingered on the branches far past Christmas. They hung tight to the limbs well into the New Year and past the first month of the new year.

By the start of the second month, with autumn well past, and halfway into winter, another blast of 20-degree temperatures and a stout wind stripped the tree of its last leaves.

The tree desperately needs trimming. Branches jut from the trunk like the mad cowlicks of a bed-headed sailor. They tear into the grids of a steel fence. Branches scrape a neighbor’s shed. Limbs rise toward a power line. Lower limbs dig into the earth. They claw at the grass. The tree resembles a stop-motion arthritic explosion of gnarled brambles and warped wood.

Limbs so tangled that trimming them while covered in leaves seems impossible. In the heat of summer, which in South Georgia also means the heat of spring and the heat of fall, vines writhe within the tree’s branches. Ivy weaves a green net cloaking portions of the tree. Vines twist into bonds around limbs as if ivy intends to hold the tree’s mad growth in check but, instead, become a more intricate texture in the overall mass of expanding green.

So, you wait out the weather so you can battle this tree, this living proof that civilization is but a façade. Given half a chance, the trees and the green will reclaim the land as easily as this tree-thing has thrived in the course of a few years left unmanaged in a corner of the yard.

You wait for the leaves to fall so you can see the limbs to hack them off. You wait, hoping this time you will have time, a clear weekend, an early day away from work. More time than last year. More time than the year before that. More time before it all starts over once again.

Finally, by the first of February, the leaves fall. The tree is bare. But work calls and rain falls. Temperatures rise, and a week after last season’s leaves have left this year’s leaves and blossoms are already budding on the branches, nursed by warm temperatures, sunshine and rain.

You stare dismayed at this abridged cycle of life, this budding reincarnation that won’t allow a tree’s limbs to be dormant long enough to trim those limbs into at least some resemblance to a recognizable shape.

You watch dismayed as fall, winter and spring — three seasons — dance a jig in a wild tree all within in a South Georgia week. Yet, the temperatures fall again, spring backtracks from her early arrival. Those buds may wither before they bloom, and you may this year have the better of that tree yet.

Dean Poling is The Valdosta Daily Times assistant managing editor.

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