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Tornado, June 1959, Droid Shots, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming, May 2016, photo © 2016 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



In June 1959, a tornado roared over the south rim of the canyon directly before you. Its path was along Granite Creek to your left and through what used to be Granite Creek Campground. One person was killed. The twister ripped up timber and laid it out in the pattern you see now.

While tornadoes usually occur on the plains, several have visited the Big Horn Mountains. Blowing down mountain timber at 10,000 feet above sea level, these tornadoes are among the highest on record. The Forest Service salvaged part of the downed timber, but the steepness made it difficult to retrieve trees from upper slopes. A road at the bottom of the blowdown area enabled some clearing and reseeding. Most of the scar has revegetated naturally.



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Along the ride from South Dakota into Wyoming and on to Cody, it was quiet, except for the wind. Tornadoes in Minnesota at 830 feet; tornadoes in Wyoming at 10,000 feet. And what about the spelling? Is it Bighorn or Big Horn? I discovered this notation in a post by Emilene Ostlind at the Wyoming State Historical Society:

Note: The U.S. Geological Survey uses “Bighorn” as a single word to refer to natural geographic structures–Bighorn Basin, Bighorn River, Bighorn Canyon, Bighorn Lake, Bighorn Mountains – and “Big Horn” as two words to refer to human establishments such as the towns and counties named Big Horn in Wyoming and Montana. The U.S.G.S. also lists “Big Horn” as a variant spelling for geographic features, and both spellings are used on maps and other published materials. Growing up in the town of Big Horn I learned to write my address or refer to my school with two words, and to describe the mountains with one word: the Bighorns.

The discovery and joy of road tripping.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

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Graft, Droid Shots, Washington, D.C., June 2014, photos © 2014 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



A half mile from the U.S. Capitol in the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Art stands a 45-foot high by 45-foot wide stainless steel tree, gleaming in the sun. Graft (2008–2009) by American sculptor Roxy Paine (part of the “Dendroid” series) is made from more than 8,000 components and weighs 16,000 pounds. When I leaned against her trunk and grazed the steeled bark, I was reminded of Deborah Butterfield‘s later work in which she adopted junk metal and industrial materials such as barbed wire, pipes, and fencing into her horse sculptures. She first composed Woodrow (1988) in pieces of wood, disassembled the sculpture, and reassembled the horse in bronze. The tension between the natural world sculpted in modern materials speaks to the time in which we live—tethered to our electronics, constantly seeking ground.


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Roxy Paine was born in 1966 in New York and studied at the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico and the Pratt Institute in New York. The artist has shown his other Dendroids on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), in the Olympic Sculpture Park (Seattle), and outside the Museum of Modern Art (Fort Worth, Texas). Read more about his work at his website.



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Roxy Paine, Droid Shots, Washington, D.C., June 2014, photos © 2014 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, March 15th, 2015
-related to: WRITING TOPIC – TREES

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By Bob Chrisman

Clouds disappear in the night sky here in the city. Before the sun sat, gray clouds had covered the sky and now I can’t see anything except a dark gray sky. If I go outside and sit on the steps I’ll be able to see the cloud cover because the spotlight from the disowned Frank Lloyd Wright on the Plaza will shine off the clouds and I’ll know if the clouds have gone away.

The summer has been free of cloud for the most part. We look with anticipation at any cloud that floats across the sky. Rain? Will it bring showers? The cloud floats by and leaves the ground dry.

The clouds have passed over us, except for a rare sprinkle here and there. You can almost hear the trees sigh with relief as any water, no matter how little, falls on them. They swallow it up and beg for more, but this summer, more has not come their way.

The edges of the leaves have dehydrated as though the moisture had leaked out of them—some leaf vampires have attacked all the leaves on every tree. The victims of these vampires turn brown and fall to the ground. Color has left the leaves and turned them to a dull green. A few have turned a pale yellow, but for the most part only shades of brown are visible on the trees.

We will have rain tonight. That’s what the weather people say. Showers. But, at almost 9 p.m. the air is warm and still. The cicadas saw away in the trees outside, a deafening chorus that arrived early this year.

Everything has come early this year: the heat, the drought, the turning leaves. The only thing that hasn’t come at all is a cloud to relieve the thirsty earth.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — CLOUD is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman is joining QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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Spring walk.

Spring Walk, Droid Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2012, photos © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Let the essays compose themselves.
Two yellow finches and a strong March wind—
skywriter’s delight.






-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, March 11th, 2012

-related to post: haiku 4 (one-a-day) meets renga 52

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Out of all the agreements, this is one I strive to keep. It’s also the hardest. I woke up from a dream in the middle of the night. I dreamed about Ely, Minnesota, the deep forests of the North Woods, where most everything is impeccable with its word. The black bears, Lily and Hope, are busy being bears. They hibernate in Winter, fluctuating between restless activity and long naps. They may have cubs in January. It’s not something that is up for debate. They emerge in the Spring and seek a mate, roam the forests of red and white pines, gangly cedars, and rough-hewn milkweed, and pluck fruit off of agile chokecherry trees which they bend across the path and navigate with their tongues.

In my dream, I was walking through the woods, similar to the nature walk back behind the Bear Center on Saturday night. It was humid and wet, the ground soft underfoot. A long line of people skirted the trail through tufts of mosquitoes; they quietly listened. What I’ve learned about impeccability is that it is different for each person. If you are a bear researcher, you report back to the public from the angle from which you study the bears. Each person’s approach is different. One is not less impeccable than the next. They may start out with different beliefs, seek to prove or disprove them over years spent in the woods, watching and recording black bears.

I was thinking about how that applies to every day life. We tend to hang around people who are most like us. It takes great effort to understand those we might disagree with. To be willing to have our opinion changed, based on fact, based on what is right — that’s a form of impeccability. To deep listen. Again, impeccable. It takes work to listen to what people have to say without already forming what your response will be when they are done speaking. There are many different versions of right and wrong. Not black and white. Gray. If you get to know the facts about any one subject, person, place or thing, there is a lot of gray.

I learned at the North American Bear Center that what might have been believed true of bears 20 years ago, may not be true now. With more research, comes a deeper form of truth and understanding. With age comes wisdom. The same is true in my own life. I recently ran across an old journal from the time period when I was turning from 21 to 22. I had recently moved to Montana from Pennsylvania and my life was topsy-turvy. Over the course of a year, I ended one relationship, began another with a woman who had a toddler. That relationship would end in three years. The toddler is full-grown; I’m only a blip in his life.

What I believed when I was 20 is not what I believe now. The way I was impeccable with my word is not the way I try to be impeccable today. I work harder now to not make commitments I know I can’t keep. I also fail. But I feel more willing to accept the failures. By fessing up. Apologizing. Asking for forgiveness. There can’t be too much forgiveness in the world. There can’t be too much love.

I’ve learned the hard way that impeccability is something that is earned over time. It doesn’t show up on your doorstep and beg to be let in. It is proud, strong, forgiving but demanding. The white pines are impeccable. They catalogue the seasons and provide protection and nurturing for black bears in the North Woods of Minnesota. The lumber barons who nearly wiped white pines off the face of the planet? I wouldn’t call them impeccable in their commitment to the sustainability of our world. But things are more complicated than that.

Maybe they were impeccable with their word to those they did business with, to the communities they helped build and make thrive. I don’t know. I don’t share their values. But I shy away from condemnation. I try to understand their shortsightedness. Sometimes it’s just greed. Pure and simple greed that drives people to break their word. Fortunately, I still believe that it’s not the greedy who shall inherit the Earth. But I’m not so sure it will be the humans either.



-Related to Topic post:  WRITING TOPIC: THE FOUR AGREEMENTS

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By Bob Chrisman


Trees hold a special place in my memory. I planted lots of trees in the yard of the house where I lived for the first 21 years of my life. The poplar trees went along the north border of the yard next to the gravel alley. They grew tall and then split in heavy winds. I learned that not all trees live a long time.

I planted a maple tree in a spot near the raspberry patch. Subconsciously I must have known that it would grow tall enough to shade the raspberry bushes and keep the sun from nourishing them. It took ten years for the tree to grow to a height sufficient to block the sun on the west end of the patch. By then my mother had stopped picking raspberries and selling them to her friends and neighbors anyway so she didn’t miss those bushes killed by the lack of sunlight.

My favorite tree was the Dutch elm that grew in the side yard. It provided solace to me in my childhood. When I was punished as a very small boy I would take my teddy bear which was as big as I was and carry it to a place under the tree, throw it on the ground, and lie down with my head on his chest and cry. The old black cat would come from wherever he was in the neighborhood and sit next to me and the bear until I stopped crying. Then he would wander off. I would pick up my companion and carry him back into the house.

That tree watched over me for many years until it died of some disease. All those years it escaped the Dutch elm disease only to die of some other cause. I sat and watched as my father cut it down and wondered what life would be like without a place to cry.

I read a book one time about the spirits in trees and how each tree has its own personality. My experience tells me that the spirits do exist. We usually aren’t quiet enough to feel them or hear them. No, they don’t talk like we do, but they express themselves through their movement and the leaves.

The cedar pines outside my grandmother’s farmhouse whispered in the slightest breeze. I curled up on the daybed on the screened in porch and fell asleep to the sounds of those trees talking to each other and the background conversations of my family in the living room of the farmhouse.

At the cemetery about a half mile from my grandmother’s house, the shushing of the cedar pines became the voices of the dead buried among the roots of the trees. No matter how hot the temperature in the world away from those trees, the air under those trees was cold as though when the dead talked they expelled the coldness of the world in which they lived.

The sycamore trees that grow in the park not far from my house spread their branches across large areas. The big leaves provide shade and shelter to all different kinds of birds and humans. People, with their bags of possessions, sleep under the trees during the late afternoon and early evening. People picnic at nearby tables. The walkers and runners appear to relax when they reach the shade.

In the winter these same trees with no leaves looks like skeletal hands reaching toward the sky to beg some god or goddess for the return of spring. The bleached whiteness of the branches against the cold blue skies of winter or the gray clouds that bring snow beseech some higher power for the return of warmth.

The sweet gum tree that grows in my front yard shades the house from the intense afternoon sun. The huge leaves provide hiding places for the squirrels and birds. For some reason no birds nest in the tree. Maybe they know that the wood is too soft sometimes to withstand the windstorms.

In the fall a leaf turns yellow, detaches from the branch, and floats to the ground. Soon the entire tree goes from the vibrant green of summer to the soft yellow of fall. Next the leave fall to the ground covering the yard in a layer of golden yellow and leave the naked black branches to hold the winter snow.



-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – TREES. [NOTE: This was a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey and ybonesy in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.]

-Also related to posts: PRACTICE: Trees — 15min (by ybonesy) and PRACTICE — Trees — 15min (by QuoinMonkey).

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I don’t have a favorite tree. Not one — many. When I attended the ritual gathering for the oldest tree in Minneapolis, the Northern Burr Oak, I realized that the relationships people have with trees are varied and complex. One man had fallen in love with his wife under the oak; another woman had gone there to find solace and healing when she learned she had cancer. Two poets read poems for the tree. An artist talked about creating sculptures from the branches. Trees are a life force. Like food, water, the air we breathe. I don’t know why we take them for granted, like they will always be there, always be replenished. Trees are our roots.

When I lived in the Northwest, trees were a constant source of tension between landowners, state government, the U.S. National Forest Service. How many trees to let private companies cut down, who would benefit. What about controlled burns that eat up trees, reduce them to cinders. Ponderosa pines, aspens, tamaracks. In the northwest corner of California, the southern tip of Oregon, live the biggest trees I’ve ever seen in my life. The Giant Redwoods. If we had not created federal and state parks, there would be no trees left. We tore down thousands of acres to make way for the railroad, to clear fields for agriculture.

The trees that mean the most to me? Last year, it was a tall skinny Georgia pine, the longleaf pine growing over the graves of my paternal grandparents. They were not part of my life when they were living. It is only since I’ve started researching memoir that I have come to know these kin, and reconnected to family I have not seen since I was 6 years old. In the South, we called family kin. I don’t know the origin of the word. I like to think it comes from kindred, like Kindred Spirits. My Aunt Annette told me that my granddaddy wanted to be buried under that pine tree. He was very specific about that. My mother wants her ashes scattered over Clarks Hill Lake. At least part of them. Again, very specific. Do I want to be scattered over mountain, ocean, forest, or dale?

I loved seeing the pine that Georgia O’Keeffe painted at the D. H. Lawrence Ranch, Kiowa. I’ve seen it three times, each visit standing under the canopy, or lying on a bench, staring straight up through the branches, dreaming of O’Keeffe. Is she in heaven? Ash mixed into her oils? The stroke of a brush. Could she have known that people would travel to that spot in New Mexico, just to stand under her tree, to walk where D.H. Lawrence and Dorothy Brett and Aldous Huxley and Frieda walked.

Oaks make a half circle around our yard. We are surrounded on one side by old growth trees. Who knows what they have seen: the building of neighborhood homes, the planting of gardens, restless children ice skating in the park across the street. Me, moving my belongings from a tiny apartment in Northeast Minneapolis to this hilly plot of land in Golden Valley. I love the oaks. But the most important tree on our land is the green ash in front of the deck that shades us from the sweltering sun. Last year, we were careful to watch for the possibility of an Emerald Ash Borer digging a home in her bark. We watered the ash, had her branches trimmed to keep her healthy. She seems less stressed this year, bushy and green.

In our front yard in Pennsylvania, where my mother still lives, there is a Royal Red Maple that my step-dad planted when we first moved into the house in 1966. There is an old color photograph of my brother as a child, taking out the garbage — that tree is barely at the top of his head. Now it’s a giant with massive roots which tear at the pavement that makes up the hilly drive where I shoveled snow as a child. Behind the house are acres of forest where we rode our mini-bikes in the Summer, went sledding in the Winter, took long walks in the Fall. They found an endangered species there a few years ago and were prohibited from developing the lots. Relief. Spared from the dozer.

For me, New Mexico is the Cottonwood, Montana the Ponderosa, Oregon the Redwoods, Minnesota the Red and White Pines, the South those skinny little Georgia Pines, the longleafs, where I built tree forts and dug caves to keep cool in the Summer. For all my digging, I don’t have a clue. I only know I feel a kindred spirit to the trees. Shade, oxygen, bark for medicine, needles for walls, pecans for good eating, I can’t imagine life without trees.


-Related to Topic post:  WRITING TOPIC — TREES

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