March 29, 2013
I have a memory of acid-green tree bark.
Two years ago, while a passenger in a car traveling to Coupeville, Washington, I remember seeing this most unusual color on the trees lining Madrona Way. So on my recent trip to Whidbey Island, I was determined to find them again so that I could photograph the amazing bark.
I did find the trees, the Pacific madrone or madrona, along the winding Madrona Way, but the trunks exhibited a burnt sienna color — no acid green. Could I have mis-remembered? Looking for more information, I came across this Seattle Times article which describes some of the more amazing attributes of this native tree: it’s a “broadleaf evergreen tree” (we think of evergreen trees as having needles) with “bonsai’d branches.” It’s a “cliff hugging” tree, so the winding road along Puget Sound was its natural habitat. And then the article mentioned “pistachio” colored bark. So it seems I might have I remembered correctly after all.
The Times article also introduced me to the local artist David Harrison, who frequently features the madrona tree in work. You can see some of this paintings here.
And here are my photos:
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
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:
December 31, 2012
“When trees mature, it is fair and moral that they are cut for man’s use, as they would soon decay and return to the earth. Trees have a yearning to live again, perhaps to provide the beauty, strength and utility to serve man, even to become an object of great artistic worth.”
— George Nakashima, The Soul of a Tree: A Wood-worker’s Reflections
“Ours is a search for pure truth in the most realistic ways — the making of things.”
— George Nakashima, The Soul of a Tree: A Wood-worker’s Reflections
“There is a line from a Sexton poem: ‘The writer is essentially a crook./ Out of used furniture he makes a tree.’ . . . After all, that is what art should do; create something natural out of all the used-up sticks and bureaus of our lives, the detritus of our lives.”
— Maxine Kumin, To Make a Prairie
One of my most cherished Christmas gifts this year was this wooden bowl made from a fallen red maple tree on my Dad’s farm. My sister and brother-in-law commissioned the bowl from a wood worker they knew. It’s a wonderful keepsake from my childhood home, a one-of-a-kind work of art, new use for old wood.
Coincidentally, David Perry, one of the bloggers I follow, just wrote about handmade wooden plates made by a Vermont woodworker and friend. Perry’s post is a love song to things analog, like the handmade wooden plates and bowl. I can relate.
December 11, 2012
This post concludes my year-long Tree-Watching Project. I started this project in December of last year and followed my “adopted” willow and maple trees through all four seasons. I will, of course, continue to notice, observe, and remark upon interesting tree happenings in the year to come, but my “official” project is over.
My “adopted” maple and willow trees have now been stripped of all their leaves after a very rainy, windy, and blustery few weeks. What leaves have not blown away remain in soggy ground cover beneath the trees.
It seems fitting to end this series with the promise of new life, the first buds on the willow tree.
You may recall that I found the inspiration for my tree-watching project from reading Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees by Nancy Hugo. So for the book lovers among you, here is a review of some remarkable tree books published this year, which I found listed in this article in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. I’ve already reserved most of these titles at my local library. Enjoy!
November 28, 2012
“Every blade in the field — every leaf in the forest — lays down its life in its season as beautifully as it was taken up. It is the pastime of a full quarter of the year. . . . And what is that pride of our autumnal scenery but the hectic flush — its painted throes — with the November air for canvas?”
— Henry David Thoreau, “October, or Autumnal Tints”
It’s been a while since I’ve photographed my “adopted” maple trees and willow. After a few windy, blustery November days, almost all of the willow leaves have fallen. The maple holds on to its lower leaves, but the upper branches are stripped of leaves.
November 14, 2012
The bald cypress is an intriguing tree. Its leaves look like the needles of evergreen trees, so when they begin turning color in the fall, you wonder whether the tree is diseased. But no, it is in fact a deciduous tree, and the color change is normal. It’s also a conifer. Green Lake Park in Seattle has several tall specimens.
November 11, 2012
“How pleasant to walk over beds of these fresh, crisp, rustling fallen leaves — young hyson, green tea, clean, crisp, and wholesome! How beautiful they go to their graves! how gently lay themselves down and turn to mould! — painted of a thousand hues and fit to make the beds of us living. So they troop to their graves, light and frisky. They put on no weeds. Merrily they go scampering over the earth, selecting their graves, whispering all through the woods about it. They that waved so loftily, how contentedly they return to dust again and are laid low, resigned to lie and decay at the foot of the tree and afford nourishment to new generations of their kind, as well as to flutter on high! How they are mixed up, all species, — oak and maple and chestnut and birch! they are about to add a leaf’s breadth to the depth of the soil. We are all the richer for their decay. Nature is not cluttered with them. She is a perfect husbandman; she stores them all.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Journals, October 20, 1853
Autumn is that elegiac time of year, and fallen leaves are its emblem. I recently read (in a blog I follow called “The Improvised Life“) about an intriguing art installation by Jane Hammond consisting of handmade leaves, each inscribed with the name of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. This memorial sculpture is called Fallen, and it seemed fitting to share it with you today, Veteran’s Day, when we honor all service men and women, living and dead. You can follow the links to read more about this piece of art and see it installed in its last exhibition.