Sunday, March 8, 2020

Tree Time

In my last blog on artwork, I had written of the Ghost Forest, the name I had given a painting until I discovered there really was something called a ghost forest. I've since given it the working title of Ghost Trees. In the painting the white trunks hover overhead separated from the stumps forming a ghost-like community with their branches intertwined with those of their neighbors.

I then went in search of imagery to reflect what is truly known as a ghost forest.  They are often found on the coast where with rising water levels the salt water kills the trees. They stand in the middle of water in various states of decay. Below you will see my effort as I imagined one. It has a bit of a swamp-like feeling.

I still had not yet had my fill of tree paintings. A friend sent me an article on the oldest trees in the world. The oldest is about 4,700 years old and is found in California. It has been named Methuselah. They  posted a sign originally, but in order to keep away the paparazzi who kept taking pieces of wood from it, they gave it back its anonymity. Kind of a witness protection program for trees.

These long-lived trees are bristle-cone pines and are pretty scrappy. They survive in climates that many trees cannot and look a bit twisted and gnarly.  The age is determined through a science called dendrochronology. They insert a rod into the tree and take a cross-section of it where they can count the rings and determine the type of seasons through which it has lived. I love that the meaning of dendrochronology is Tree Time. Trees obviously have a different kind of time than we do. Think of us as more akin to dog years, but on an entirely different scale. Let's assume an average life span of 80 years. While each dog year is worth 7 human years, each human year is worth about 59 years in the life of Methuselah. In addition to age, the rings can detect the changes in climate, rain, volcanic activity and frost.  It is through these witnesses that we know that climate change exists. The trees themselves are often personified with names like sage, elder and sentinel.

I was intrigued by their role as witness and recorder and wanted to do a painting that captured their significance. I began by just painting the tree against white sky.

 The starkness of it appealed to me and I liked the linear elements that formed the tree, but I still wanted to reflect the idea of witness and scribe that the tree plays in recording the seasons of its life and our world. That meant perhaps destroying a perfectly passable painting.  It is always a bit scary to take brush in hand when you like what you have in front of you, never certain if you can recapture what you have successfully if you don't like the alternate version. I have often longed for an undo button. Some people do multiple versions to free themselves up to experiment. I just dive in and hope for the best. I reminded myself I could always paint over the background if it didn't work.  Just as the tree grows in layers that create rings, I often paint on top of paintings, building layers of history as I explore alternate possibilities.

  I decided to create tree rings behind the tree, a backdrop that would suggest the multipurpose role of this ancient tree.  After several iterations, I had created the image below. I'm pleased with the result, enough so that I am wondering if I can find a spot for it in my home eventually. For the moment I’ve named it Tree Time to reflect the longevity of this very unusual tree.

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