Updated: Oct 7, 2021
I don't know if it was serendipity or coincidence, but a day after a late summer's hike to a local Reservoir --with autumn closing in, as Bob Seger wistfully sings in his song Night Moves-- I saw in the grain of some craft store wood planks the very photographs I had taken on that trek. Even the panoramic dimensions were the same.
The pictures themselves captured not only the landscape but that wonderful smokey atmosphere particular to that time of year. The air was floating an intense last gasp heat, but curling around the edges was a whisper of the coming cool.
And while running my fingertips across the grain, a romantic notion occurred to me. Sure, these growth rings milled vertically in a plank are a record of age, but they are also the stained remnants of a history and a locale. They document events in the world. Years of ample rain and abundance, but also drought, fire and disease can be deciphered there in the lines. In short, life. But what if visual imprints are recorded there as well? The trees taking snapshots so to speak of the world around them? After all, I mused, the elements of water, land and sky were clearly displayed there in the grain.
So I bought a few and, much like a hike, began to explore the wood.
What I found immediately was that this was not like painting on canvas, or even board.
The wood immediately swallowed the paint-- it was a thirsty medium. But a tree is a pump, and by its nature designed to do this. In that regard and to return to the romance of trees, studies have recently suggested that trees have a "heartbeat"; with this pump delivering water much like our own heart delivers blood-- and regulates a constant maneuvering of its limbs to coincide with the variables around it. Apparently, a tree is not only living, it is always moving as well.
I let the wood drink, giving it all it wanted and could hold with servings of different flavors and hues. And then with water, sand and steel I began to strip those layers back. Yet the grain was ultimately in control, relenting here but holding fast there, speaking throughout, dictating to me what it was it wanted to reveal.
It was a good hike. They almost always are. And from them I get ideas and inspiration. Although I haven't read Tolkien since Junior High, I came across this paragraph from his work that sums it up nicely:
"He told them tales of bees and flowers, the ways of trees, and the strange
creatures of the forest, about the evil things and the good things, things
friendly and unfriendly, cruel things and kind things, and secrets hidden
Yes. And then return home to translate all of that into a painting.
A nice track from an appropriately Tolkien-esque album; Songs From The Wood , 1977.