Reading Bark

March 7, 2013

“Bark is a subtle, supple substance, easily overlooked.  It can be thought of as the tree’s skin; like skin, it carries the marks of folding and of expansion, a stretching which snaps it into flakes or plates or lenticles.  If you were to take slow-motion footage of elm bark over a year, you would be able to see it moving, working, living:  crevasses gaping, calluses forming, the constant springing open and closing over of fissures.  As Constable knew, a world can reveal itself in a tree’s bark.  Lean in close to bark, and you will find a landscape which you might enter, through whose ravines and edges you might take day-long journeys.”
— Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places

John Constable’s painting of the Hampstead Heath elm

Wouldn’t it be amazing to watch a fast-motion film of bark expanding and contracting over the course of a year?  I wonder if anyone has already done so.

Winter is certainly a great time to read bark.  It’s so varied and beautiful.  Here are some examples from my recent walks:

Tree trunk with moss, lichen and fungi

Tree trunk with moss, lichen and fungi

Tree with knot holes and peeling bark

Tree with knot holes and peeling bark

Such color!

Such color!

Scarred trunk with moss

Scarred trunk

Ink contour-line drawing of bark

Ink contour-line drawing of bark

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6 Responses to “Reading Bark”

  1. Chris Says:

    I love a tree’s bark, or it’s skin, they are all so different and beautiful…like fingerprints, I suppose! Gorgeous photos! I like to take close-up photos of bark…one of my favorite barks…are birches! White ladies of the Forest!

  2. Elisa Says:

    oooooooooooooooo my library has this book! I just tried to put it on hold and :( it keeps giving me invalid login
    Someone might get it before me!!! lol
    Now I get anticipation until noon tomorrow, and teasers on amazon.

    • Elisa Says:

      oh nooooooooooo my library does NOT have the book, it has been missing for years :(
      interlibrary loan here I go again!
      maybe I can find an affordable copy on half. com and then donate it to the library when I am finished!

  3. shoreacres Says:

    I was going to say that your bark is much more interesting than our bark. Then, it occurred to me. Perhaps I simply haven’t paid enough attention to our bark! It could be (are you ready?) that our bark is better than my sight. ;)

    I believe I’ll put “bark” on my to-do list.

    • Rosemary Says:

      I don’t think you were following my blog two years ago, so you might also like my Washington State Arbor Day post that year: http://rosemarywashington.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/an-ode-to-bark-on-arbor-day/. It mentions the book that opened my eyes to the world of bark. “Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it ‘creative observation.’ Creative viewing.” (William S. Burroughs, from Ports of Entry: Williams S. Burroughs and the Arts)


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