Branching Out: A Tree's Value
“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” (William Blake 1757-1827)
A few years ago, after a lifetime spent in the UK, I started to spend more time in Santa Monica with my daughter and her young family. I was overwhelmed by the beautiful green avenues of trees lining the city streets and fascinated by the wondrous aisles of Ficus trees that I found reminiscent of the interior of a Gothic cathedral, with intricate fan vaulting.
I soon became aware of the city’s surprising plan to remove 54 trees to implement a new downtown street design. I swiftly joined the local Treesavers group and began attending city meetings, petitioning, distributing information and gathering signatures, in the hope that the city would feel the force of public opinion and change their plans. Suddenly, I had gone from artist to tree activist. It was a life changing experience and my love affair with trees was magnified by the many varied interactions I had with people upon asking them to take a moment and notice the trees that stood above them. We know that in an urban environment trees remove carbon dioxide and air pollutants. They produce oxygen and act as a carbon sink, removing carbon and storing it in their trunks, branches, leaves and roots. They provide shelter and fruit for wildlife, reduce storm water runoff, prevent soil erosion and reduce energy consumption by lowering temperatures in the summer and acting as windbreaks in the winter. I had grown up in the country where trees were part of our every day vocabulary, in the city things were different. I picked up my camera and started sharing my view of the trees - every sculptural branch and beautiful leaf, every shadow that fell on the uneven bark, every pattern and texture.
In a time and for a city that is obsessed with the appearance of youth there is value to these mature trees. The age and depth of the bark against the youthful spray of greenery and flowers. I was constantly aware of their sensual similarity to the limbs of humans, or prehistoric animals.
In my new role as artist and activist I realize that there is yet more I have to learn from the surrounding trees and that the need to preserve and respect them is stronger than ever.
Photo credits: Gillian Ware