Trees

My aunt recently quoted a Flannery O’Connor line in an email: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I think photography works in a similar way. I didn't realize trees were important to me until I began photographing; my camera was drawn to them. It still is. The ways trees seem to effortlessly adjust to the unnatural environments humans create feels like a poem I never tire of reading.

As I began describing in the last entry, my wife and I drove up to Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park in Northern California over Christmas weekend. In a way it felt inevitable that I would end up there at some point, but for a while, living on the east coast, I began to doubt I would ever make it out to see the giants. I finally did, and my expectations were greatly exceeded. I felt my concept of scale and time begin to crumble; similar to the feeling I had when I first saw mountains. They are huge and they are ancient. Many of them have massive tree-sized limbs growing off their sides (many of which are their own tree trunks), and they often grow in clusters all connected by the same root system essentially making them all the same tree. It's like seeing an ancient ruin or dwelling except several of the redwoods have been alive the entire time from those ancient peoples to now. These aren’t trees adjusting to an unnatural environment, but instead trees that live in their own realm; we were tiny visitors winding our way through their habitat, carefully scrambling over their roots and straining our necks to take in their majesty.

I also love picturing trees as the explosions of life that they are, and the redwoods burst from the earth to the sky, without hesitation or the meandering curiosity you might find in an oak or a willow. It is cool, damp, and quiet in their forest, and the ground is soft from years of needle fall accumulation. Other than the hundreds of elk we saw grazing in open areas along the road (and in a mobile home park) we saw very little wildlife other than the occasional squirrel or bird. The silence gave my tinnitus ample room to stretch its legs and infiltrate my headspace save for those welcome moments when we were hiking next to a rushing creek. What shakes my foundation is the relative briefness our lifespans are to those of the redwoods. An 80-year human life is roughly 1/12th as long as that of some the old growth redwoods, in some cases 1/20th. Yet, I compile so much meaning, thought, emotion, and purpose in my day-to-day. You can see how this might be a nice setting for one to assess what’s truly important in the cacophony of life.

Which brings me to that unnamable connection I feel when I’m in a natural environment or even when I take time to observe the trees sprinkled into my urban backdrop. It reminds me that I too have a nature that is constantly being affected by my surroundings. It doesn’t take long to be reminded of this. About twenty paces onto a trail the scents of bay leaves and pine needles shock and remind me my olfactory was designed to take on more than car exhaust and garbage. And the deeper I get that connection to the nature around me and the nature within me strengthens. Inevitably, I start thinking about time, and time gets me thinking about everything that’s happened in my brief 37 years, and at once I feel fortunate, incomplete, and exactly where I need to be.