Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Wild Trees at Coole

Coole Park is remembered in W. B. Yeats' poem "The Wild Swans at Coole," which, if you don't mind me saying, has a lot to do about trees too. Swans. Sheesh.

I had the pleasure of visiting Coole in 1997 while at the International Yeats Summer School in Sligo, and I must say that park is absolutely magical. I don't know what it is about Ireland, but I did feel a strange mystical presence about this island. Coole park is no exception. The woods are quiet and contemplative, perhaps still echoing the murmurings of the poets of the Celtic Twilight hosted by Lady Gregory (on whose estate the park is located).

The most unique tree, however, is the "autograph tree," on which now famous writers, including Yeats, carved their initials when visiting the park. The tree has grown, and many of the autographs are warped, so the caretakers have erected a plaque with the list of those who left a mark on this tree's bark (thus, the numbers).


From 1. The Wild Swans at Coole

THE TREES are in their autumn beauty, 
The woodland paths are dry, 
Under the October twilight the water 
Mirrors a still sky; 
Upon the brimming water among the stones         5
Are nine and fifty swans. 
The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me 
Since I first made my count; 
I saw, before I had well finished, 
All suddenly mount  10
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings 
Upon their clamorous wings. 
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures, 
And now my heart is sore. 
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,  15
The first time on this shore, 
The bell-beat of their wings above my head, 
Trod with a lighter tread. 
Unwearied still, lover by lover, 
They paddle in the cold,  20
Companionable streams or climb the air; 
Their hearts have not grown old; 
Passion or conquest, wander where they will, 
Attend upon them still. 
But now they drift on the still water  25
Mysterious, beautiful; 
Among what rushes will they build, 
By what lake’s edge or pool 
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day 
To find they have flown away?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Canadian Tree Blogging

The Group of Seven are, at least this side of the parallel, an underrepresented coterie of North American painters. Today's post is in honour of the Group of Seven, who never shied away from painting dignified trees. Here is one from Tom Thomson, who happens to have one of those lovely names that slip off the tongue. [amazon link]

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tree Crime: Rare Tree Stolen

Little did I know I would wake up this morning and be able to post a breaking story on a tree theft. Someone probably wanted a cheap Christmas tree for the family and ended up cutting down an endangered species.

Cutting down a Christmas tree is my favorite part of the season (at sustainable, local tree farms), notwithstanding the time we decided to drive out to a Sebastopol tree farm (40 minutes away) and my appendix decided to burst. I think I got a lot of mercy presents under the tree that year. Read the whole story (linked) below:

By Sandi Doughton
Seattle Times science reporter
A Keteleeria evelyniana tree, like this one, was sawed off and stolen sometime Tuesday night or Wednesday morning at the Washington Park Arboretum. The 7-foot-tall tree was one of only a pair at the park. The tree, which is native to southwestern China, Laos and Vietnam, is rare. When they spotted the stump Wednesday, staffers at the Washington Park Arboretum had little doubt what happened: Someone seeking a free Christmas tree had chopped down a likely candidate.

But even the Grinch wouldn't have targeted that particular tree. The 7-foot conifer was one of the park's rarest specimens, an imperiled species collected from the mountainous Yunnan province in China.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Giving Tree

Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree was one of my favorite books as a child (yes, I believe we can have more than one favorite). As a child, I had a sense the human character wrongly took more than he received, but I still marveled at the tree's generosity. My environmental reading is that humans have for too long ignored the greater consequences of exploiting resources beyond natural sustainability. We are part of an intricate web of organisms, and trees are but one greatly overused resource 'at our disposal.' The lesson from this book, I suppose, is to see the tree and not the man as the protagonist, for it is the tree who has the inner wisdom of knowing there is no "I" and "thou"--there is only "we."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wednesday Tree Poem

My friend Liisa gets first accolades for sending me our first tree poem. Please enjoy.

The Sound of Trees by Robert Frost

I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.

Welcome, A Sociology of Trees needs your help!

Welcome to my first blog. A Sociology of Trees has grown out of the fertile soil of post-dissertation glee. Gardening has always been a part of my family (you should see my grandmother's roses or my grandfather's gardens), but I've always felt a special kinship with trees--particularly the majestic redwoods of my home state. Walking through an old-growth redwood forest is probably one the last magical activities on Earth--and it cannot quite be explained in words (which probably just adds to the woody magic).

Well, one thing I realized about finishing a dissertation is that I'm still poor. I suppose finishing one's PhD in the worst economic downturn since the depression adds to this parsimonious predicament; the net result of it being I've canceled all of magazine subscriptions (and the trees rejoiced).

I am an insatiable reader, and my magazines filled a little void in my life, especially in the morning after my breakfast and coffee when I sought the solace of a quiet, private room. With no reading material at hand, I felt myself blocked, mentally and physically, so I ran downstairs and grabbed the first book I could find: The Guide to American Trees. I was in love again. I realized trees are a beautiful metaphor for the human condition. Give them enough time, space and adequate water and heat, they will take over every inch of land and choke off most life below them. I thought, "hey, trees are evolutionary a**holes, just like humans--they spread and cover everything available inch in front of them. Ferns are the pigeons of the forests! We are a lot alike. Sure, there's also a more beautiful image of a delicate root system, that subconscious existence that affects our outward appearance--at times nourishing, at times strangling our conscious lives. The Buddhists cherish the Lotus plant--the symbol of compassion--since its beautiful flower depends upon a root system that descends into the muck and mire of the swamp. In Western culture, the tree is our lotus--we know its visible beauty is supported by an invisible network of roots in the dirt.

Enough of my ramblings. This blog needs you. This blog is about the interaction of humans with trees, or, how humans represent trees in history and art. That means I need your help. Sure, I know where the oldest trees on Earth are, as well as were the tallest ones are (they're both in California, by the way), but I'm also looking for those idiosyncratic trees. Perhaps there is a tree that has special meaning in your town or city. I want to document that. Just think, one of the earliest surviving poems in English is about a tree (The Dream of the Rood); Billie Holiday evokes the "Strange Fruit" growing on trees to capture a chillingly shameful epoch in United States history. In short, trees are always around us in our visible lives and imaginations. In the comments section, tell me where your trees are and what stories you know (please give a specific location, if you can) and help this blog grow.