Posts Tagged ‘roots’

Under the Big Tree, Nov. 2012

I have heard stories about this land and river that are supposed to be very old and have been handed down for generations.  Folks back then told each other stories and that’s how things became remembered.  Back then, it also wasn’t unusual to find a young one that knew their family’s history by heart and able to recite the names of all the known ancestors going back as far as people could  remember.  People in the old days must have been very smart and had better senses of memory than we do today.  Before writing and such, I wonder if people back in the old days held jobs as living books and sources of information? But I digress… which brings me to yesterday when I encountered the most unexpected sight at the Falls of the Ohio!  I first learned about this mystery as a little guy while listening to stories over a camp fire with my recent ancestors.  It’s about these special trees that are rumored to live around here that have the ability to uproot themselves and move around.  I didn’t believe it either and chalked it up as being another fun story like the Prince Madoc legend, but then I saw these rare trees with my own eyes!  And, because these days we have cameras…I took a few snapshots of them so that you can see them too.  Check this out.

Sycamore tree, roots and rocks, Nov. 2012

The old stories mention that the boundary between the earth and the water has always been a difficult place to live.  It’s an extreme back and forth existence living at the margins of too much or too little.  There’s not much nutrition coming out of these fabled rocks, but then again the limestone at least gives you something to hold on to.  Water has a way of insinuating itself around every nook and cranny and is always testing allegiances.  Around here, some of the trees have learned that they can improve their lot in life by pulling up roots and going elsewhere.  You see, some trees have long memories and they know when it’s time for that great once in a thousand years flood or some other cyclical disaster to come back around.  Or epic memories are shocked and encoded into the rock and soil and trees are just better at reading and interpreting what it could mean?I’m guessing that some of the trees around the Falls of the Ohio like to be prepared or are skittish or both and have begun the very gradual process of being somewhere else.

uprooting trees at the Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2012

I came across this small mobile grove not far away from the first tree I showed you.  This is an incredible response by these trees to the rise and fall of the river.    The river dissolves  the silt, sand, and mud away from the riverbank and exposes the tree’s rootlet toes which are always growing. Water currents and the rocking back and forth of the wind further helps loosen roots from soil.  These trees are vibrating and creeping along with most of their roots on the surface with just enough tendrils into the earth to hold on to dear life.  Good thing too or else one day you could find yourself swept away.  I have seen it happen before as in this recent example by the creek.  This tree fell into the water and will never right itself or hold the riverbank up as it formerly did and one day it will be swept away by the river to somewhere unintended.

Tree that recently fell off of the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2012

So much water is a mixed blessing.  Just enough and the trees can move a little more than usual.  Too much water and they run the risk of losing control. This mixed lot of trees seems to be moving westward.  Park officials have reported that there seems to be more of a sense of urgency on the trees’ part and they have picked up the pace over the last few years.  I wonder how they know when and where to stop and should I be worried?  Do the walking trees signify a bad omen for the future and is some environmental disaster looming ahead of us?

uprooted tree trio at the Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2012

Of course life travels at its own speed.  Our tree friends here cannot out run this year’s spent leaves gathering around their feet, but they have patience.  They don’t have the same concept of time as we do. An inch or centimeter or two here and there and progress will be made even if it takes many seasons.  Moving in ultra slow motion, they will either get to their intended destinations or not.  Come to think about it…trees don’t have the same concept of speed either!

Tall figure under the Great Tree, Nov. 2012

Trees have their own internal logic and physics that they respond to.  My tall friend here is a case in point.  He’s an old cottonwood tree and long a go he too was a walking tree.  You can tell from looking at these fantastic roots that buttress the tree from the river and elements.  For some reason known only to the tree…he decided to stay here and put down his roots.

Figure with big sheet of plastic, Nov. 2012

Over time the cottonwood thrived.  Its roots held the riverbank in place and kept it from sliding into the river.  With this particular tree, a small, sheltering space grew directly under the tree’s tall trunk.  Visitors would bring discarded boards and other river finds ( like this large sheet of corrugated and molded plastic) to make forts and tree houses.  This one site has seen plenty of play and fantasy over the many years and has always been recognized as a special tree.

Figure by large cottonwood tree, Nov. 2012

This just occurred to me.  What if the moving trees are just a matter of perception and they really are trying to stay in one place?  What if it’s the rest of the world that is moving so quickly and constantly like one big blur and the trees are holding life in place?  The walking trees have remained where they have germinated and everything else around them has quickly shifted. Because we are so near to it we don’t recognize the movement.  Could time also be as fluid as water seeking out the nooks and crannies and testing allegiances too?  All this head-scratching stuff is making me dizzy on such a fine day by the river.

Great Cottonwood tree at the Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2012

Unbeknownst to the brown-headed philosopher under the cottonwood, but changes to our area are forthcoming.  This year was the warmest year ever recorded.  The environmental chess board has been set and the game is on.  Pieces are moving and strategies are evolving and somewhere on the Ohio River another pawn is moving into place a little nearer to the cottonwood tree.

Tree with exposed roots, Falls of the Ohio, Nov. 2012

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One last driftwood post before hopefully moving on to the current conditions at the Falls of the Ohio.  As my knee heals, I have been sifting through my own digital photographs.  Sitting at home, I have been spared the relentless heat that has defined our summer.  Artist at Exit 0, however, does miss bearing witness to life along the river and can’t wait to get back!  I thought I would end this driftwood series by looking at wood that is more organically expressive.  As mentioned in a previous post, the river processes a tree by removing its branches into increasingly smaller segments.  With all the broken down wood present at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, it can be a challenge to find a piece that implies movement.  Here are a few larger examples that I find to be especially sculptural.

I come across many unique pieces of wood in the park that feel as satisfying to me as many abstract sculptures made by man.  Walking around a  particularly nice piece of driftwood, I am rewarded with different viewpoints that remind me that the object I am regarding share a common space.  Here’s a different image of the same dramatic driftwood log and the experience in perception changes as you move around the wood.  I notice not only the arc of branches and roots, but the spaces between forms as well.

Here’s another nice piece that I came across this year and it also has many nice sculptural qualities.  I love the “S” curve snake-like motion implied in this driftwood.

When I see a piece of wood this twisted and convoluted I’m reminded that nature is the true sculptor here.  Doing the shaping are water, wind, and the life force of the tree itself whose innate “intention” is to live.

It’s hard for me to imagine that works of art were considered ” superior” to the “corruptness” of nature.  Fortunately, the philosophy of aesthetics is ever-changing, but still could use additional tweaking from what strictly enhances the experiences of our lives to embracing a better appreciation of life in all its forms.  Even when we use ourselves as the egotistical measure of all things we should be starting to understand by now that the quality of our very lives and that of our descendants depends upon the overall quality of the natural environment.

When I’m at the river I try to be as present in the moment as much as I can, however, my mind does day-dream a lot about the relationships between art, man, and nature.  I believe as my friend Ellen Dissanayake has eloquently expressed through her well-researched books that art has survival value otherwise our species would not have spent thousands of years involved in this activity.  My reaction is to try to use my creativity in this special place using the materials I find on hand to try to further this conversation along.  The sculptures I make to tell my little stories are combinations of natural and artificial materials.  The river-eroded Styrofoam I use for my figurative work is usually so static in form that to enliven it requires finding rootlets and branches that the river hasn’t fully removed all sense of gesture and movement.  These pieces become the arms and legs of my characters that help imply animation.  The picture above shows roots I collected while walking over the driftwood that the river did not completely break apart.

It’s interesting how often trees enter the picture.  One nice touch in the opening ceremony of the recently completed London Olympics was the large tree image that brought nature into the festivities.  Key to the life of a tree are the roots that help bring water and nutrients to its tissues.  By growing and burrowing through the soil the root system helps buttress the tree and holds the soil together.  This is especially important on a riverbank.  Since driftwood is essentially deadwood…I didn’t want to wrap up this post on such a dismal note.  At the Falls of the Ohio live many tenacious trees and here are images of a few of them that have weathered many a storm, flood, and the activities of man.

Before the idea of climate change and global warming there was already enough change occurring through the busyness of our species.  I remember looking at satellite imagery of the Amazon region a few years a go and being able to see the tell-tale grid system of logging roads and farms supplanting the jungle.  Deforestation is continuing at an even greater rate now.  Our trees need our love and we need the free services they provide.  Now for one last look at another resilient tree at the Falls of the Ohio.

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