A Day In The Life Of A Tree

Haeckel's jellyfish, and the Daily Mail's jellyfish.

A tree requires such work to extract what we want from it as peo­ple – look how we endeav­or to pull a per­fect and geo­met­ri­cal flower out of it, which will soon enough be bent and with­ered. Look at how its flow­ers aggre­gate in ungain­ly clouds, only the enchant­ment of their col­or remain­ing. A Haeck­el stretch­es a bio­log­i­cal form into its inher­ent sym­me­try, but in life these sym­me­tries stay sub­merged, as life twists and bends, as acci­dents and dam­age accrue in the form, through wear and muta­tion. In the tree, the math­e­mat­i­cal har­mo­ny and the heap of acci­dents haunt each oth­er simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, and can only with great pains be pulled apart into a sort of men­tal espalier.

We can­not get our heads around trees. We sim­pli­fy them into clouds stuck on thin pil­lars, into a chain of arcs. We know that an acorn grows into an oak, and that this is mar­velous; and that the oak in turn makes acorns. But we can hard­ly walk our­selves through, step by step, how this acorn awaits the coin­ci­dence of ener­gy and mate­ri­als to begin its repli­ca­tion; how it fun­nels every­thing that touch­es it into mak­ing this striv­ing moun­tain of cel­lu­lose. If we call it a pro­gram, we get clos­er to its actu­al nature, I think – but we also relate it to what is near­est at hand, and rhetor­i­cal­ly piv­ot it to what has become at once hon­or­able and familiar.

flatbed tree
Flatbed tree in Cambridge, MA.
gingko street trees
The gingkos of Swann Street, Washington, DC.
pollarded tree
Pollarded street trees in San Francisco.

(September 2016)