Winters on the prairie were brutal for the early pioneers. During snowstorms a person could get lost just walking from the house to the barn and back again. In order to protect themselves homesteaders planted trees and shrubs of various types around their homes and out buildings so they would form natural wind breaks as they matured.
These shelter belts are still common in the rural U.S. and Canada. Driving through North Dakota on our way to or from my hometown in Iowa, we see quite a few of these belts surrounding homes and farm buildings, and even our small township in Alberta hides many of its homes behind thick lines of pine.
I have made a private road game of scanning the fields for shelter belts. Some are so thick you can’t say for certain there are houses or buildings behind them at all. Others are obviously still in their inceptions or have been reduced by time and weather. They give the impression of vulnerability despite their offering more protection than the naked neighborhoods one finds in the suburban forests of new homes with nothing more to offer the inhabitants than the clean lines of a Better Homes and Gardens cover story layout.
Having lived through one Canadian winter and heading into my second, I have developed a great appreciation for the sheltering effects of trees. And they remind me that what they do is not unlike something we do in our own lives to shield ourselves from hurts and disasters.
Instead of trees, however, we use the people around us. Some of them placed by chance in our lives through the accident known as birth, but many others chosen, and through deliberate acquisition and lucky timing, placed around us in the hope that when the brutal emotional times come they will be our protectors and our support.
But, when death claims one of the members of our shelter belt, we are less able to bear the brunt of the storm that may come. We are like the homesteaders of bygone times, stringing up rope from building to building and pulling ourselves through the emotional blizzards.
A lost member of the belt cannot really be replaced. It takes time to patch the hole in our shelter system and even when we find someone new to stand in the place of the fallen, they will not be the same. Just like a newly planted tree takes time to grow and fill out, a new person in our circle will need time to take root and blossom as a support, and they will take on a different shape just as a new tree would.
Two months ago I lost my father. Like an old oak, he has been a mainstay in my personal shelter belt. The space he left behind will not be easily filled in and has left my immediate family exposed to the wintry harshness of grief. He is not the first to fall. We have lost others; the third anniversary of my late husband’s death looms early in the new year, and we will lose again. But even as every loss bends and changes us we struggle to rebuild. We plant anew. We seek the shelter that only love is truly capable of providing.
My personal shelter belt has changed greatly over the last few years, but I clear away the debris and ready myself for planting.
This was originally an anniegirl1138 post updated for 50 Something Moms.