Trees for Life, by Gary Walker, Naturalist and Arborist - Part 1
With all the recent talk about the environment, global warming, carbon footprints, ‘going green and the economics of all this, I find there is usually one critical element left out of the discussion: trees. The individual and collective planting, combined with the intelligent stewardship of trees, together with enforced legislation of this vitally important species, can and would do much to mitigate and ameliorate these pressing problems. How, you might ask?
Tree communities and their ubiquitous and diverse natures, are truly amazing structures and systems and their benefits virtually limitless and renewable. First and foremost, they act as natural air filters by removing huge amounts of carbon and other harmful toxins from our atmosphere. They in turn produce pure oxygen which is essential to all life forms. Trees mitigate sound and beneficially moderate temperature. Trees also provide shelter, food and habitat for an astounding array of insects, animals, humans and yes, other plants. “There were three Ravens sat on a tree, They were as black as they might be. The one of them said to his make, ‘Where shall we our breakfast take?’ ” -The Three Ravens
Through Nature’s vast and relatively untapped pharmacopoeia, trees produce an astonishing array complex compounds, etc., some of which are used in all kinds of medicines and remedies for people and animals the world over. Indigenous peoples the world over have known this for thousands of years. And let us not forget that, in addition to the gift of healing, trees also provide ineffable beauty, solace and priceless inspiration to all willing to take the time to see, acknowledge and appreciate them.
Trees are Nature’s timekeepers; the harbingers of regular seasonal change, the timings of which are perfectly set for all to gage and annotate their lives, memories and experiences by. Spring, summer, winter, fall; in every glorious season do trees present a welcome and unique change in a way reminiscent of a fair maiden periodically changing her beautiful raiment time and again for her special one. “As it fell upon a day, In the merry month of May, Sitting in a pleasant shade, Which a grove of Myrtles made. Beasts did leap and birds did sing, Trees did grow and plants did spring…” -Richard Barnfield.
Trees are very sensual life forms as well: we can see, hear, taste, touch and smell them. Redolent with their soothing, alluring and refreshing aromas, what person has not been made the happier for the experience. There are indigenous peoples of the great Amazon basin that can and do communicate with trees; and why not since trees are actually are living, sentient life forms as humans, animals and other organisms are. In Macbeth, Wm. Shakespeare puts it this way: “Stones have been known to move and trees to speak.“ I’ve coined a phrase for trees (and flowers). ‘Visual Valium’ is the term I use for them because of their calming effects on people. “I think that I shall never see, A poem as lovely as a tree. Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.” - Alfred Joyce Kilmer
The universal appeal of trees cuts across social, cultural, age and economic lines: people of all ages and climes innately and intuitively love trees. Trees are an important component of all gardens small and great. As Naturalist Mirabel Osler puts it: “To be able to walk under the branches of a tree that you have planted is really to feel that you have arrived with your garden.” And who among us, perhaps at some point in our lives, has not found friendship and courted love under the protective and romantic boughs of a special tree? “She was more beautiful than thy first love, This lady by the trees.” -W.B. Yeats.
Who that has seen the iconic water lily paintings of the Impressionist Master Claude Monet, has not been deeply touched and moved by their transcendent natural feel and timeless aura? Who can forget his brilliant use of evanescent light and the organized images of the atmospheric and reflective water holding up colorful water lily’s in the foreground, with the famous green arched Japanese inspired bridge in the mid ground and the towering, majestic weeping willow’s in the background? His reflective images and the lessons we can learn from them will go on through the ages.
Asher Durand, another masterful painter of the 19th century Hudson River School, created some of the most exact and visually stunning nature paintings ever. One of his trademarks was to have at least one dominant tree in each outdoor painting he did. Because of the detail and feel of his works, Durand is highly regaled as one of the greatest painters of trees, rocks and foliage ever. Not long ago I saw a retrospective showing many of his paintings at a museum, and was so taken and overwhelmed by the scope and magnitude of his abilities and portrayals, that I kept going though the show, again and again, in a seemingly endless loop to try to soak as much of it as I could. What makes his accomplishments all the more great is the incredible fact that all his paintings were done from exacting sketches he made on site and subsequently took back to his studio to paint from, because outdoor or au plain aire (painting outdoors) did not come along until the advent of the Impressionist painters some years later, which happened in the latter part of his ninety year long life. “Of all the trees that grow so fair, Old England to adorn, Greater are none beneath the Sun, Than Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.” -Rudyard Kipling.
One great aspect of trees, unlike some people, is that what you see is what it really is. You never see bananas growing on an apple tree or Papaya’s growing on a Pine (Conifer) trees. Cones grow on Conifer trees and papaya on Papaya trees. “The tree is known by his fruit.” -St. Matthew. The great German Poet/Philosopher, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe put it another way: “All theory, dear friend, is gray, but the golden tree of actual life springs ever green.”
There are many lessons we can learn from Monet, Durand and their trees and the interplay of light they used in portraying their subjects. Consider the fact that trees act as vast solar panels/batteries. Through the intricate and amazing process of photosynthesis via the leaves and bark, trees magically store, assimilate and metabolize light (photons) and convert it to sugars and starches to feed itself. “Monet’s gardens serve to teach us that in gardening we have an opportunity to work with natural elements in an artistic, organized manner.”
In trees we can also find meaning: a place to dream and in that state fulfill our whimsical fantasies as if in this resplendent reverie we may find some sort of fruition of desire, if only in thought. “I read, and sigh, and wish I were a tree - For sure then I should grow To fruit or shade; as least some bird would trust Her household to me, and I should be just.” -George Herbert. The Bible says it this way: “I see men as trees, walking.” -St. Matthew.