I love taking pictures of trees, most often in autumn and winter. Watching leaves turn a glorious riot of color before they drop to the ground is a gift I never tire of. But there’s something even more compelling when they’re gone, and every knot on every tree trunk, every crooked limb, shows itself. Until snow comes, there’s no hiding from a sense of feeling exposed.
A few years back, we had a surprise snowstorm on Halloween. Tree branches snapped. Entire trees toppled, this one across my driveway in the middle of the night. Nature has her own way of pruning. I didn’t hear a thing.
Gardeners have their way of pruning, too, and I marvel at the precision with which a tree is taken down. It takes a certain kind of fearlessness (coupled with skill) to be up in a tree, sawing away while helpers are on the ground, directing a branch with ropes. The saw makes for a very grating noise, yes; then comes the thud.
The view from my kitchen deck is even more open now that the gorgeous ash tree I’ve photographed more than once over the years is gone. I take no credit for the way the light just happened to hit it on a day in late August. Even more mysterious is how turning it into my iPad wallpaper forever gave it a screenshot date. The original photograph is missing and I made a point of capturing newer images of that favorite tree, even if they don’t quite measure up. Maybe there’s a message here.
These days have me hearing trees falling, groaning under the weight of a planet in distress. I spend a lot of time trying to reassure my daughter that all is not lost. Things change. The profit motive (not to mention the vindictive behavior of the psychopath-in- chief) that underscores all that’s being done to undermine the environmental progress we’ve made will give way to a stronger, sounder resistance.
A landscape filled with trees is riddled with metaphor. Light bends leaves, deep, sinewy roots are what keep a tree standing.
Look hard enough and you see trees doing things.
Leaning on one another. . .
Or looking more and more like the terrain in Stranger Things.
This morning was filled with mist and the chill of missing sunshine, neither of which keeps me from walking.
On the way back I decided it was time to take a photo or two of the space left by the majestic ash—which calls to mind a parable as wise as it is touching. Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree takes a boy from innocence to old age in his relationship to a tree who (physically and metaphorically) gives pieces of herself in response to his needs. He swings from her branches, sleeps in her shade; she lets him cut branches when he needs to build a house and her trunk when he wants a boat in which to sail away. In the end, when he’s old and tired and simply wants a place to sit and rest, she invites him to do just that on all that’s left of her.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point to one more tree, dreamlike in its artfulness, that gets pride of place on the redesigned Home page of my website. Please take a peek if you haven’t already. Then consider the serendipity that brought me this Counting Crows cover of a Joni Mitchell song with these words:
They took all the trees
and put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half to see ’em