Consider a Tree
Dr. Barb Lachenbruch, Professor Emeritus of Ecophysiology in the Department of Forest Ecology and Society at Oregon State University shared her vast wood anatomy slide library with me. While reviewing the images, I was consistently amazed by exquisite examples of nature creating complex and balanced abstract composition that are integral to the structure and strength of the organism. They seemed to me like readymade paintings and sculptures.
My process is organic and feels much like play that is centered around my intrinsic and individual relationship with beauty, informed over my lifetime’s trajectory of experiences. I scroll through the images quickly and choose one over another without judging and scrutinizing. It feels arbitrary. Only after collecting a group of images that made an immediate impression upon me do I begin to analyze them. I sort them according to my ability to deconstruct them, looking for ways to rebuild them with cut paper. The original images are edited minimally, mostly for clarity rather than composition.
Sometimes I learn later about the origins of what I have made when I receive a response from Barb, “Pith, I think!” But, more often than not, I do not. The origins of my compositions remain a mystery to me. The beauty of nature remains solely in the realm of wonder.
But, even when I do learn about the origins, about the science behind the beauty, the wonder does not dissipate. Instead my relationship with it gains more depth. I think of the words of philosopher Martin Buber:
“I consider a tree.
I can look on it as a picture: stiff column in a shock of light, or splash of green shot with the delicate blue and silver of the background.
I can perceive it as movement: flowing veins on clinging, pressing pith, suck of the roots, breathing of the leaves, ceaseless commerce with earth and air—and the obscure growth itself.
I can classify it in a species and study it as a type in its structure and mode of life.
I can subdue its actual presence and form so sternly that I recognise it only as an expression of law — of the laws in accordance with which a constant opposition of forces is continually adjusted, or of those in accordance with which the component substances mingle and separate.
I can dissipate it and perpetuate it in number, in pure numerical relation.
In all this the tree remains my object, occupies space and time, and has its nature and constitution.
It can, however, also come about, if I have both will and grace, that in considering the tree I become bound up in relation to it. The tree is now no longer It. I have been seized by the power of exclusiveness.
To effect this it is not necessary for me to give up any of the ways in which I consider the tree. There is nothing from which I would have to turn my eyes away in order to see, and no knowledge that I would have to forget. Rather is everything, picture and movement, species and type, law and number, indivisibly united in this event.
Everything belonging to the tree is in this: its form and structure, its colours and chemical composition, its intercourse with the elements and with the stars, are all present in a single whole.
The tree is no impression, no play of my imagination, no value depending on my mood; but it is bodied over against me and has to do with me, as I with it — only in a different way.
Let no attempt be made to sap the strength from the meaning of the relation: relation is mutual.”
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