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


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.

Peeling Bark

November 21, 2010

Birch bark stretched around its trunk

Peeling red bark

“The world strips and gets naked, the full year of arboreal effort piling on the sidewalks in flat, damp strata.”
     — Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna