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