“When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.”
From Mary Oliver’s When I Am Among the Trees
Trees are not cute. We don’t post pictures of them on Facebook or Instagram like we do cats and dogs and rabbits. Probably in conservation networks they don’t elicit as much donations as lion cubs or even bees. Yet we fall in love with neighborhoods or parks or cities because of their large tree canopies. I wouldn’t think of buying a house without trees in the yard. Obviously, many of you are like me: you feel that trees have a special quality—that they are somehow connected to us. Why else when we walk into the woods would we feel such familiarity, such calm, such simple joy.
I was fascinated to learn recently (Doesn’t everyone read a headline and start googling.) that scientist believe trees “talk” to each other via their root network. Scientists reason that they may use “chemical conversation starters” that might allow them to maintain a type of social distance called crown shyness, helping them avoid spreading pests and disease. There was also the discovery by the National Geographic Society of a tree on an island on the southern tip of South America. They believe the tree may be important to explaining where we are in terms of climate change, acting as a sort of “living laboratory” as they track how it changes and adapts in the years to come.
Artist have always painted trees. Emily Carr, a Canadian artist and writer, involved in the St. Ives group, painted “Tree Trunk.” Van Gogh has many famous tree paintings including “Cypresses, or “Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background”or “Olive Trees With Yellow Sky.” Egon Schiele’s “Four Trees” were painted in autumn as well as Paul Gauguin’s “The Tree-Lined Road.” And the once again popular Bob Ross’ first episode was “Happy Little Trees.” Perhaps artists paint trees just because they are there, but I don’t believe that. Humans have always been intertwined with trees, whether for fuel, housing, food, shade, or comfort. I think artists just recognize their importance.
On the other hand, artists are probably more like the late poet Oliver. They may have always painted trees because “they give off such hints of gladness.” And on so many days, especially recently, they save me as well.