Friday, September 21, 2012

Baume for the Soul

Brain Pickings has a lovely post about Herman Hesse and trees. Go to Brainpickings to check out a longer passage from Hesse's "Bäume: Betrachtungen und Gedichte [Trees: Reflections and Poems] (public library)":
“When we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.”

No wonder Hesse was fascinated with Siddhartha, the man who found enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I Left my Heart of Redwood in San Francisco

An incredible project out of San Francisco: Citizens are asked to count and "map" every tree in the city. One of my favorite smells is that of astringent Eucalyptus and Redwood covered in fog as one drives down Park Presidio. . So, my San Franciscans, map your trees! 

Every tree in San Francisco will soon be accounted for online, thanks to a new, Wikified project that aims to plot them all.
The Urban Forest Map will officially launch Wednesday, drawing on tree information collected by the city of San Francisco and Friends of the Urban Forest, a non-profit group. Though the project is getting its start in the Bay Area, the site will head to other major cities in the coming months.
“We’re going to publish the most up-to-date data from our data sources. Then, from that point on, we’re going to allow the community to add and edit and update that information,” said Amber Bieg, the project manager of the Urban Forest Map project. “It’ll become a tree census from the community and function like a Wiki.”

Friday, April 9, 2010

Trees in James Joyce's Ulysses

I had the pleasure of teaching the "Cyclops" episode from Ulysses this week, and I was delighted to find an entire passage dedicated to trees:
The fashionable international world attended en masse this afternoon at the wedding of the chevalier Jean Wyse de Neaulan, grand high chief ranger of the Irish National Foresters, with Miss Fir Conifer of Pine Valley. Lady Sylvester Elmshade, Mrs Barbara Lovebirch, Mrs Poll Ash, Mrs Holly Hazeleyes, Miss Daphne Bays, Miss Dorothy Canebrake, Mrs Clyde Twelvetrees, Mrs Rowan Greene, Mrs Helen Vinegadding, Miss Virginia Creeper, Miss Gladys Beech, Miss Olive Garth, Miss Blanche Maple, Mrs Maud Mahogany, Miss Myra Myrtle, Miss Priscilla Elderflower, Miss Bee Honeysuckle, Miss Grace Poplar, Miss O. Mimosa San, Miss Rachel Cedarfrond, the Misses Lilian and Viola Lilac, Miss Timidity Aspenall, Mrs Kitty Dewey-Mosse, Miss May Hawthorne, Mrs Gloriana Palme, Mrs Liana Forrest, Mrs Arabella Blackwood and Mrs Norma Holyoake of Oakholme Regis graced the ceremony by their presence. The bride who was given away by her father, the M'Conifer of the Glands, looked exquisitely charming in a creation carried out in green mercerised silk, moulded on an underslip of gloaming grey, sashed with a yoke of broad emerald and finished with a triple flounce of darkerhued fringe, the scheme being relieved by bretelles and hip insertions of acorn bronze. The maids of honour, Miss Larch Conifer and Miss Spruce Conifer, sisters of the bride, wore very becoming costumes in the same tone, a dainty motif of plume rose being worked into the pleats in a pinstripe and repeated capriciously in the jadegreen toques in the form of heron feathers of paletinted coral. Senhor Enrique Flor presided at the organ with his wellknown ability and, in addition to the prescribed numbers of the nuptial mass, played a new and striking arrangement of Woodman, spare that tree at the conclusion of the service. On leaving the church of Saint Fiacre in Horto after the papal blessing the happy pair were subjected to a playful crossfire of hazelnuts, beechmast, bayleaves, catkins of willow, ivytod, hollyberries, mistletoe sprigs and quicken shoots. Mr and Mrs Wyse Conifer Neaulan will spend a quiet honeymoon in the Black Forest. (Ulysses 268)
Let's hope the Joyce Estate doesn't make me take down that excerpt. Don Gifford notes that this particular section "parodies newspaper accounts of important social events" and "alludes to the catalogue of trees in Spenser's The Faerie Queene, a catalogue that has, in its turn, literary forebears in Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls and in Ovid's Metamorphosis" (Ulysses Annotated 352). Each tree name corresponds to its trait in the language of flowers (Pine is philosophical, Ash grandeur, etc.). This particular section tells the story of Redcrosse and Una who must avoid the suffocating fingers of "Dragon-Error (false doctrine)" as they traverse the "ambiguous realm" of this seemingly delightful forest (Gifford 352). Indeed, the protagonist of Ulysses, Mr. Leopold Bloom, faces his own danger in this episode as he confronts the racist and hyper-nationalist, "the Citizen," who hates the Irish-born Bloom for being a Jew, a trait that according to the Citizen, excludes Bloom from being a true Irishman. Bloom asks, "What is a nation?" before he declares that "love" should be the true goal of personal identity (273).  Fortunately for us who love the indomitable Bloom, he escapes the Cyclops' violence unscathed.

Ulysses on
Ulysses Annotated on

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

a man in Provence

Well, it turns out I have a tree-doppelganger named Meara O'Reilly over at Boingboing.  She's posted TWO great stories about tree planting in the last week, and I continue to unabashedly use her posts. If you know me, you know how important Provence is to me. So, it is with great pleasure that I share the (fictional) story of one man who decided to replant a desolate valley one pip at a time. His story has just been animated, and you can read up on it here:

With each frame hand-drawn in pencil and smudged into the next, Oscar-winning animator Frédéric Back tells the story of Elzéard Bouffier, a lone shepherd in the Alps near Provence who boldly decides to single-handedly reforest the desolate valley where he lives, one acorn at a time. Not only is the story defiantly romantic, I'm in love with the way Back's patient devotion to each drawing mimics the methodical tree-planting of his main character. [amazon link]

This looks like a lovely film, and I can't wait to see it. There are days I catch the brief aroma of sun-bitten pine dust on the wind, and for a brief moment I am back in chalky valleys of France surrounded by pine-scrub and that strange blue light of the Provencal sun. There is something stubborn about these pines--craggly, bent, beaten, blown, but still reaching skyward and releasing a sweet perfume, like the wimple of a woman's scarf in a slight wind.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The One Million Tree March

The Huffpost, via, has a great article and video on Gashaw Tahir, who has made it his life's mission to reforest Ethiopia and thus heal the land. I posit that there is a strong connection between the mass deforestation of a land and the freedom/health of its people. The exploitation that occurred under colonialism was matched by that of warlords and those seeking only financial gain. When peoples are robbed of their trees, they are robbed of themselves. This person, is fixing that:

Rivers have dried, mountains have been deforested, and rising temperatures due to climate change are making plant life more difficult to maintain. Tahir decided that something had to be done. His story is told in a new video from
"My ultimate vision is making Africa green again," he says. "That inspires me, touches me, and moves me into action." He gathered young people from his hometown -- only a few dozen at first -- but those young people recruited their friends and family until there were hundreds. On only two acres of land they planted thousands of seedlings. Now, Tahir owns 11,000 acres of Ethiopian land on which his group has planted one million trees.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Sound of Thirsty Trees

My friend Sara B. posted this amazing link from BoingBoing on the sound of thirsty trees. I'm excited to share this for many reasons (first, I've never heard of a Bioacoustician), including the fact that I'm a proud subscriber of Make Magazine. From the Boing:
Bioacoustician Bernie Krause has recorded the amazingly rhythmic vascular systems of thirsty trees. He discovered that the cells in the xylem and phloem of the tree fill with air to try to maintain the osmotic pressure that's usually produced by the sucking of water up through the roots.  At a certain point the cells burst. Krause adds "When they pop, they make a noise: we can't hear it, but insects can. And when insects hear multiple cells popping, they're drawn to the tree because certain ones are programmed to expect sap.
 To hear the trees, follow the link in today's title. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Oldest Trees on the Planet (might not be discovered)

WiredScience has a great write-up on trees, along with a gallery of the oldest known trees on the planet. It looks like we have our first tourist's checklist.  Check it out here:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Victorian Tree Poem

I had the pleasure of teaching Gerard Manley Hopkins recently, a poet who stands among one of the greats in English literature (he even coined his own poetic term: Sprung Rhythm). We honor Hopkins today for his deep-hewed tree poem: Binsey Poplars. This poem is not only a meditation on what is lost in nature when we allow instrumentalism to determine our way of being in the world, but also what we lose within ourselves.

Binsey Poplars
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

felled 1879
  My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
  Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
  All felled, felled, are all felled;
    Of a fresh and following folded rank
                Not spared, not one
                That dandled a sandalled
         Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
  O if we but knew what we do
         When we delve or hew —
     Hack and rack the growing green!
          Since country is so tender
     To touch, her being só slender,
     That, like this sleek and seeing ball
     But a prick will make no eye at all,
     Where we, even where we mean
                 To mend her we end her,
            When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
  Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
     Strokes of havoc unselve
           The sweet especial scene,
     Rural scene, a rural scene,
     Sweet especial rural scene.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Joanna Baillie

I apologize for the sporadic posting of late. The school term is started, and I've had to prepare my courses. I taught a little-known poet today, one who has finally made the canonical leap into the Norton Anthology of British Literature. She wasn't there when I was student so many years ago,  and thus she remained a mystery to me until recently. Joanna Baillie, a Scottish poet and writer, represents a figure immensely popular in her time, but is someone lost to history and the male-dominated canon-making of the early twentieth century. She writes wonderfully about domestic life (much like Marie Caillbotte painting in the Impressionist era) and what it was like to see the first steam-ships throwing off the chains of wind and nature's whim. She also wrote about trees. I taught my class an "Address to a Steamvessel" today (well worth reading), but for you, I give you Baillie's (bay leaf's?) meditation on a leaf:

The Last Leaf
Thou last pale relic from yon widow'd tree,
Hovering awhile in air, as if to leave
Thy native sprig reluctant, how I grieve,
And heave the sigh of kindred sympathy,

That thou art fall'n!--for I too whilom play'd
Upon the topmost bough of youth's gay spring;
Have sported blithe on summer's golden wing;
And now I see my fleeting autumn fade.

Yet, "sear and yellow leaf," though thou and I
Thus far resemble, and this frame, like thee,
In the cold silent ground be doom'd to lie,
Thou never more will climb thy parent tree;

But I, through faith in my Redeemer, trust,
That I shall rise again, ev'n from the dust.

Baillie on

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Avatar and The Road: Hollywood's Trees

Sorry for the sporadic posting of late--I'm trying to finish up my syllabi before the start of term next week. I have found time to watch two films lately: James Cameron's Avatar and Cormac McCarthy's The Road--both of which feature trees as main characters.

I'm at the age now where I was completely impressed with Cameron's digital effects ( I feel like my parents describing the first time they saw Star Wars)--but I was even more impressed with his treatment of trees in the film. If you haven't seen the film yet, the Na'vi live in a "home tree," an ancient arbor that is networked, through its roots, to the other trees on the planet, creating a sort of neural network more complicated than the human brain.

I'm not the first to notice the environmental message in this film. Mother Nature Network recently ran a piece on the radical conservation message in Avatar. I'm unable to find a picture of this beautiful, imaginative tree, so here's the best I can do.

Let's not forget that trees are one of the oldest species on the planet, and their evolution over millions of years have created the conditions that led to our own evolutionary track. To disrupt this complicated network of oxygen- producing beings is to complicate, and perhaps destroy, our own future in this symbiotic network on life.

I have to say, you must see this film in 3D if you see it. I often felt myself connecting with those first film viewers who (apocryphally?) hid under their chairs when they saw the train approaching from the screen for the first time.  And, it's all about trees.

The Road
This film also has an underlying environmental message. The director (and author) do not say why the world has ended (including the life of all trees, birds, animals, etc.), we only know the event created the horrific conditions humanity faces to survive (which in this text, means feasting on other humans). We follow a father and son (unnamed) on their journey south along "the road." There aren't a lot of human characters (or at least characters we want to know), but there are a ton of wooded characters. Throughout the entire film, the sound of dead trees create an eerie atmosphere as they crackle, whine and collapse in the background. It is the ultimate sound of despair--and one of the only natural sounds in this dead world. It reminded me of the Tulsa ice-storm two years ago and the saddest sound I've ever heard--the sound of branches and trees moaning (it was haunting) in the dead night before cracking and collapsing.

I don't want to give the film all the credit of making the trees such a central character. The publishers chose an image for the book cover that sums up the despair and desolation of the film. We see no humans, only their traces of the "scar" carved through a dead forest.

Again, we must realize (pace creationists) that life on this planet is a complicated network of living beings that evolved over millions of years. The trees came before us, and are thus are foundational to the conditions whence we evolved. To remove the bricks from this foundation--even only a few--will weaken the entire structure. You don't have to be an environmentalist to see the chain reaction that will occur should we continue our current economic trends that exploit important tree belts.

Does anyone else have some contributions to Hollywood and trees? I'm sure there are quite a few out there. Let me know in the comments' section.