Trees Are Sanctuaries by Hermann Hesse

A friend sent this to us a few days ago. We’ve never felt fully able to articulate what it has meant to create this series, only that we are giving voice to something beyond what we understand and that it might be medicine to others as well. This passage says more than we ever could and holds everything felt in this past decade photographing and listening to trees.

Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farm boy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But 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. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

California

We decided to focus on our own disappearing landscapes in California this summer and made it to a few National Parks.  Our beloved redwoods are on the list of the 10 top trees in our state subject to extinction.  Only 3% of these ancient beings are left on the planet thanks to logging and lack of water.  We also made it to see the Yosemite Valley, which was filled with smoke due to more fires, the magnificent thousands of years old Bristlecone Pines and the Saguaro National Park in Arizona.  Thanks to the land for continued inspiration and education.   

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Regeneration

We are lucky enough to have a helicopter pilot on our team, Brian's oldest son, Aaron.  We went back out to the Whittier burn to capture some of the oak valley from the air, as there was just too much tree to capture from the ground.  This shot gives a perspective of scale, the branches incinerated into piles of ash in the shape of the fallen trees.  Our minds were blown with how beautiful and poignant the landscape was.  We shot lots of footage with the drone and are excited to keep documenting this temporary phenomenon before the rains begin to wash the ash impressions away and into the soil. 

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California Fires

We have been tracking the fires in California and how they relate to the drought and climate change.  The Whittier fire burned in a valley with many old oak trees, leaving behind ash skeletons that reminded us of crime scenes and certainly had the quiet hush of a graveyard.  This is Brian with the 4 x 5 kneeling before a magnificent oak that survived with just charred leaves on the underside of it's crown. 

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stones that speak

Brought back a lot to think about after seeing the monoliths in Ireland.  Some have been around for 6000 years, which is longer than the pyramids!  They seem to have much more to communicate to us and made me think about archiving, since the Song series is meant to preserve the essence of trees through imagery, but paper doesn't last 6000 years and somehow I doubt digital files will be around then either.  Some DNA systems of conifers like redwoods have been around since the beginning of the earth, and in order to explore this idea of longevity, have started to work with stone as a process, creating water vessels for each tree carved with the Celtic Ogham Tree alphabet.  Is it a perfect joining?  Only time will tell..

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National Parks Immersion

Both as a direct response to Trumplandia's call to drill and develop in US National Parks and because it's time we added these majestic, iconic landscapes to the Song series, we are honing our camping skills to spend some serious time in California's protected lands, one park at a time.  This image was shot last winter in Sequoia National Park.

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Beech grove, Dyrehaven (Deer Park) in Vejle, Denmark, originally created for hunting purposes and now popular in Denmark as nature sanctuaries in the cities.  Some of the last remaining places in Northern Europe to find old growth trees, as logging has been a main industry since the 9th century and although they practice reforestation, it's just not the same is it?

Not only were the trees in Fulufjallet National Park in Sweden of interest, but we discovered the extraordinary white lichen and colorful mosses found on the summit surrounding Old Tjikko.  The rocks seemed to have as much to say as the trees and as the lichen grow at about a millimeter every year, some of the lichen covering the rocks is hundreds of years old.  We had a perfect rainy day for our hike, which cleared everyone else off the mountain, so we got to commune with the storm and Sweden's largest waterfall nearby. 

 

 

While in Ireland we were quite honored to spend the day with the Earl of Longford, Thomas Packinham, who has been collecting and planting species of trees on his family estate for the past 50 years.  His gardens are exquisite and he had an encyclopedic knowledge of all things trees.  A real kindred spirit, he's traveled all over the world to photograph trees and uncover their stories and has written 4 books on his findings.  We could hardly keep up with him as he led us through the arboretum (and yes, past his giant castle!)

 

Photographing Trees (and Amir Khan) in India

Last summer after the residency we traveled from the southernmost tip of India in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadir - where the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal all come together and where some of Ghandi's ashes were spread - up the Western Coast, making stops at Amma's Amritapuri Ashram, Fort Cochin, a Dutch fishing town where the Kochi Muziris Biennale is held every year, attracting art collectors and museum directors from around the globe.  We passed through Mumbai long enough to visit a Bollywood film set where we were hosted by the memorable actor and humanitarian Amir Khan, onward through Rajasthan, Agra and New Delhi.  India was overwhelming, magical and filled with faith, ritual, danger and beauty and has forever changed us.  We also learned more about climate change issues and that the drought we have been so consumed with in California is also happening on a global scale.

Brian made this image in a tranquil moment of a harrowing 90 MPH road trip from Jodhpur to Jaipur somewhere near the camel town of Pushkar in Rajasthan.  Trees are often sites for Puja, or worship in India and in the most surprising and remote places we found elaborate altars either inside the tree or at the base.