God’s Tabernacle

October 7, 2014

“Surely the woods are God’s tabernacle.”
— Emily Carr, from Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of an Artist

Mount Shasta near the tree line

Mount Shasta near the tree line

“. . . it is not the purpose of cathedrals simply to make people feel small (there is no virtue in feeling small) but rather to help people understand that they are located within the vast orderly architecture of creation.  We are indeed small, but a small part of something glorious, in which we can participate, find our place, find our purpose.”
— Alan Jacobs, Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant

The wonders of creation, from a viewpoint on Mount Shasta

The wonders of creation, from a viewpoint on Mount Shasta

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Trees on Mount Shasta

Trees on Mount Shasta

Trees on Mount Shasta

Trees on Mount Shasta

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Praise of Shadows

April 11, 2014

“Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.”
— Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, from In Praise of Shadows, translated by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker

Shadows on snow, the road to Rachel Lake, Minnesota

Shadows on snow, the road to Rachel Lake, Minnesota

” . . . we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.”
— Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, from In Praise of Shadows, translated by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker

The stark bare trees in the Minnesota landscape were strikingly beautiful.  They cast dark shadows on the snow.  At times the shadows looked like the tree roots made visible.

Tree shadows

Tree shadows on snow

Sun through bare trees, my Dad's woods

Sun through bare trees, my Dad’s woods

 

 

Branches Big with Snow

February 10, 2014

Snow-coated branches, Green Lake park, Seattle

Snow-coated branches, Green Lake park, Seattle

“Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it;
Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute:
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward when
Meeting those meandering down they turn and descend again.”
—  Thomas Hardy, from “Snow in the Suburbs”

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Central Park with path, benches and lamps

Central Park with path, benches and lamps

Central Park in autumn left me with feelings of nostalgia and romance.  I found that the special effects manipulations on my Photo Express iPad app helped to evoke these soft and elegiac feelings better than the unedited photos.  For example, consider these three versions of the above photo:

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Which one do you like best?  It’s hard to choose, isn’t it?

I did get carried away with the dramatic, artsy manipulations of my photos from Central Park.  I hope you like the kaleidoscope of colors and images as much as I do.

The Mall

The Mall

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Watercolor sketch of oak leaves and acorns from the trees lining the reservoir at Central Park

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves and acorns from the trees lining the reservoir at Central Park

 

 

Andy Goldsworthy, Strom King Wall, 1997-98

Andy Goldsworthy, Storm King Wall, 1997-98

I’ve traveled great distances to see Andy Goldsworthy’s extraordinary art.  The last time I was in New York, my husband and I saw his Garden of Stones at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan.  In April, I went on a five-day guided hike in France where I saw nine Goldsworthy installations along the trail.  (You can read about that experience here and here and here.)  The $46 bus tour ticket to Storm King to see Goldsworthy’s walls was a much smaller investment than a trip to France, and the rewards of seeing the art in its natural setting was just as satisfying.

I was surprised at how long the wall extended.  It started in a straight line atop a hill, then dropped down to a lake, and finally continued in a sinuous curve on the other side of the water.  The part that curved around the living tree trunks was quite visible seeing that the trees were bare this late in the season.  The lake was like a reflecting pool, magnifying the beauty of this setting.

Distant view of the wall on the hill

Distant view of the wall on the hill

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I was also surprised to learn that Goldsworthy constructed a second wall at Storm King in 2010.  Much shorter than his first wall, this one is called 5 Men, 17 Days, 15 Boulders, 1 Wall.  I think the title says it all.

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Practice Any Art

November 9, 2013

Ink and watercolor sketch of trees at dawn, Green Lake

Ink and watercolor sketch of trees at dawn, Green Lake

“Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or how badly, not to get money or fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”
— Kurt Vonnegut

It’s just getting light when I run around Green Lake on these November mornings. There is one point along the path where the shadows of the trees reach close like long fingers in the indistinct dawn. Everything is golden or dark, no grays.

Under the Bridge

August 13, 2013

Under the I-5 bridge at Ravenna Blvd, Seattle

Under the I-5 bridge at Ravenna Blvd, Seattle

Isn’t this an unusual, artistic treatment of bridge posts?  The posts stand like some futuristic urban “forest.”  I like that a real, natural, tree or two was allowed to survive, interrupting the pattern and creating some interest.

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IMG_3814Being under the bridge reminded me of a favorite children’s story, The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson (1958).  It’s a story about a homeless family in Paris — a mother and her three fatherless children — who are taken under the wing of a curmudgeonly tramp.  I loved the illustrations by Garth Williams, who also illustrated my beloved childhood editions of the Little House books.  The library still holds copies of this classic on its shelves.  I’m glad they do.

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Plant Calligraphy

August 7, 2013

These leaves reminded me of Arabic calligraphy:

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Plant calligraphy

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