National Poetry Month. 25

Big Leaf Maple

Big Leaf Maple

Learning Trees
by Howard Nemerov

Before you can learn the trees, you have to learn
The language of the trees.  That’s done indoors,
Out of a book, which now you think of it
Is one of the transformations of a tree.

The words themselves are a delight to learn,
You might be in a foreign land of terms
Like samara, capsule, drupe, legume and pome,
Where bark is papery, plated, warty or smooth.

But best of all are the words that shape the leaves —
Orbicular, cordate, cleft and reniform —
And their venation — palmate, and parallel —
And tips — acute, truncate, auriculate.

Sufficiently provided, you may now
Go forth to the forests and shady streets
To see how the chaos of experience
Answers to catalogue and category.

Confusedly.  The leaves of a single tree
May differ among themselves more than they do
From other species, so you have to find,
All blandly says the book, “an average leaf.”

Example, the catalpa in the book
Sprays out its leaves in whorls of three
Around the stem; the one in front of you
But rarely does, or somewhat, or almost;

Maybe it’s not catalpa?  Dreadful doubt.
It may be weeks before you see an elm
Fanlike in form, a spruce that pyramids,
A sweetgum spiring up in steeple shape.

Still, pedetemtim as Lucretius says,
Little by little, you do start to learn;
And learn as well, maybe, what language does
And how it does it, cutting across the world

Not always at the joints, competing with
Experience while cooperating with
Experience, and keeping an obstinate
Intransigence, uncanny, of its own.

Think finally about the secret will
Pretending obedience to Nature, but
Invidiously distinguishing everywhere,
Dividing up the world to conquer it,

And think also how funny knowledge is:
You may succeed in learning many trees
And calling off their names as you go by,
But their comprehensive silence stays the same.

Map for Green Lake Tree Walk

Map for Green Lake Tree Walk

Today is Arbor Day, and in celebration of trees, I took a tree walk around Green Lake.  The City of Seattle offers downloadable maps and tree identification keys to several Tree Walks around the city.  This was my first time using this resource.  Armed with my map and camera, I set out to identify the trees of Green Lake.

Red Horse Chestnut

Red Horse Chestnut

Yellow Buckeye

Yellow Buckeye

Yellow Buckeye

Yellow Buckeye

Austrian Black Pine

Austrian Black Pine

Empress tree

Empress tree

Incense Cedar

Incense Cedar

Black Walnut tree

Black Walnut tree

Japanese Red Pine

Japanese Red Pine

Tulip Poplar

Tulip Poplar

Oak Hill

Oak Hill

Elm leaves

Elm leaves

Crabapple Row

Crabapple Row

Approaching Crabapple Row

Approaching Crabapple Row

 

Katsura tree

Katsura tree

Flowering Dogwood

Flowering Dogwood

European Larch

European Larch

Bald Cyprus (I think)

Bald Cyprus (I think)

Giant Redwood

Giant Redwood

Atlas Cedar

Atlas Cedar

Atlas Cedar

Atlas Cedar

Tanyosho Pine

Tanyosho Pine

Austrian Black Pine

Austrian Black Pine

Oriental Spruce

Oriental Spruce

Big Leaf Maple

Big Leaf Maple

Zebra Cedar

Zebra Cedar

Kwanzan Cherry blossoms

Kwanzan Cherry blossoms

Empress Tree

Empress Tree

The Trees
by Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old?  No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Pacific madrone

The Pacific madrone

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:

IMG_0018 IMG_0015 IMG_0013 IMG_0008 IMG_0005 IMG_0004

IMG_0002 IMG_0001

 

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

Winter Trees

January 22, 2013

Row of birches in a city parking strip

Row of birches in a city parking strip

“I had been walking alone in the winter woods my entire life and never found them without surprise, joy or inspiration. . . The experience of the woods in winter is almost entirely visual:  shadow and sunlight; tree trunks turned black, gray and white, some of them smooth as suede, others rough as oyster shells.  The light is everything, turning ice-tipped branches into ornaments and the quartz caught in granite boulders into pink jewels.  I stopped from time to time to absorb the silence.  The winter woods are nearly always silent.  There may be the muffled woof of snow falling from the burdened bough of a spruce tree or the isolated chatter of chickadees as they search among the softwood for seeds, but usually the only sound is the rasp of one’s own breathing.”
— Lou Ureneck, Cabin: Two Brothers, a Dream, and Five Acres in Maine

I find city trees just as much a visual treat as those in a winter woods described above.  The variances in the bark — colors and textures — is amazing.  Here are a few photos from a recent walk in north Seattle:

Weathered maple keys look like moth wings

Weathered maple keys look like moth wings

Curling bark

Curling bark

The healed knot from a lost branch

The healed knot from a lost branch

Curling bark of white birch tree

This birch tree stands near the bus stop in my neighborhood.  I had occasion to spend some time with it as I was waiting for my bus to arrive.  It’s really a marvelous tree.

Birch buds in an alternating pattern down a twig

Birch catkins

These catkins look like three-toed bird claws

Sagging bark like old skin

Watercolor and ink sketch of birch buds and catkins

 

“It’s sometimes harder to see the familiar than the unusual, because in order to really see the familiar, you have to break the habit of overlooking it.”
— Nancy Ross Hugo, Seeing Trees:  Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees

As I mentioned in my December 21st post, I will be taking up tree-watching in 2012.  I’ve decided to “adopt” three trees — the horse chestnut trees near my bus stop, a maple tree in the parking strip, and a willow (at least I think it’s a willow) in a nearby alley — for periodic observation during the coming year.  I’m curious to find out what I have been overlooking, and hope, by close observation, to become better acquainted with these common trees.

Here are some of my views of these trees in late December:

Fallen, brown leaves under a horse chestnut tree

Trunk, bark, and buds of horse chestnut tree

Wrinkled bark on the "underarm" of this branch

Lateral buds on horse chestnut branch

Terminal buds, resting buds and leaf scars of horse chestnut tree

New buds with old leaf stems still attached

Decaying maple leaves in the parking strip

Trunk and bark of maple tree

Terminal buds, resting buds of maple

Last of the old maple keys, still hanging on

Trunk and bark of willow

Winter buds of willow

Winter buds, resting buds of willow

Beautiful red bark

Tomorrow (the second Wednesday in April) is Arbor Day in Washington State.  In case you miss it, National Arbor Day is April 29th this year.  In keeping with this celebration of trees, let me introduce you to Bark: An Intimate Look at the World’s Trees by Cedric Pollet.  Once you savor at the remarkable images in this book, you will never again look at trees in the same way.

The Bark Book

Over the course of ten years, Pollet travelled the world to photograph trees, and he chose the images in Bark based on aesthetics, originality, curiosity, rarity, inaccessibility, or usefulness to mankind.  Many of his photographs are like abstract portraits.

There are many reasons to appreciate trees:  they clean and re-oxygenate the air we breathe; they give cooling shade on hot days; they provide beautiful foliage, blossoms, architecture.  But I will spend Arbor Day this year appreciating the beauty of bark and reveling in the diversity of bark’s patterns and color.

Once you become attentive to the bark in your world, you’ll be astounded at how lovely it can be.  I took these photographs on a single day while walking to work:

I love the peachy color palette of this tree's bark.

Striated reds

Doesn't this bark remind you of the surface of a pan of brownies?

Birch bark peeling into a scroll

Peeling bark

Deeply grooved bark

Cracks and lines

I love the sunset colors in this bark.