Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Seeing Trees

I am reading, nay absorbing a wonderful book right now.

This book is a celebration of the incredible beauty of the parts of trees that very often go unnoticed, like a new leaf unfurling, bark texture, flowers and tell-tale leaf scars on twigs.

Author Nancy Ross Hugo and photographer Robert Llewellyn are advocates for 'intimate tree viewing'. "To my mind, the biggest reward of intimate tree watching is learning to appreciate the vitality of trees. Because trees are big and essentially stationary, there is tendency to view them almost like monuments- impressive but inanimate... Not so when you are actively observing growing buds, flowers, fruits and other tree traits that take less time than a trunk to develop."

This kind of close watching allows the viewer to develop a very deep, personal understanding of the trees around them, like getting to know an old friend or lover over the years. One sees the inner workings, habits and traits of the trees and it's impossible to be left unmoved or untouched.

"Look carefully, for example, at the hair, veins, pores and other wildly vivifying tree characteristics captured in the photographs in this book, and you'll never see a tree in the same way again." And it's true, the photographs are just stunning. I can't get enough of them. The video at the end of the post details the techniques used to achieve the exceptional clarity and quality of the photos.

One of the assignments for my permaculture course was a nature awareness exercise. I had to choose a spot in nature and regularly visit that spot, spending 15 minutes each time observing the space and then recording my observations in a formal journal entry. I picked one of the catalpas growing in the park behind my house.

After the first few observations I wondered if I should have picked a larger area rather than just one tree. But as I circled the tree I kept getting closer and closer to it and looking at smaller and smaller details. I noticed the velvety hairs on the underside of the leaves and which parts of the trunk got wet or stayed dry in the rain. I noticed all the insects on the bark- mostly ants and ladybugs. Finally, on one of my last observations I watched a wasp as it slowly settled into one of the deep grooves in the bark. Following up on my observation, I learned that queen wasps will leave the colony in the fall and find a place to overwinter, often in the bark of trees.

I can't tell you how magical it felt to witness that scene and gain that little piece of understanding. Something that I already generally knew: trees are homes to creatures, took on a new meaning for me. Bark is shelter.

Hugo and Llewellyn write that their "goal in creating the book was to get people outdoors searching for tree phenomena like the ones we observed, because what is startling in Bob's photographs is infinitely more inspiring outdoors, where it can be appreciated in context and with all the senses. And it is in the process of discovering these phenomena in nature that the real joy of tree-watching resides."


1 comment:

Whispering Earth said...

Oh wow this looks awesome! I must go and buy it immediately. :)