More about Something That Could Know

I've always felt connected to trees—navigating in woods, climbing and building tree forts as a kid, planting or removing as an adult. I remember tree branches that hovered outside my window, cast lanky shadows like monkeys, I thought; paintings of trees as companions; my first sculpture with animated-looking pieces of firewood; gingerly treading along the muddy bank of a creek with a friend, guided only by the mirroring of trees' silhouettes. I've always respected them, and now science is revealing that they know, and how they know—together with other trees and organisms.

What compelled me to make this sculpture, what I'm missing in life is a context in which to know—like trees in a forest. We are as modern individuals like trees without a forest. Not at all that you can't live that way, an isolated tree or a stand of trees in a plain. But what I saw in the juniper bush was a an opportunity to see being in context, because it had a place in the motley assortment of things growing in the yard. So I did that human thing of repurposing nature, rolling dice with nature, and understanding that that rolling of dice is the system we were born into. We are both out of context and bringing it with us as we roam, dream, and invent. 

 

The forest within needs to be turned out again. So this artwork is the first I've done which is equally about tree and person. No more the tree out there in the painted landscape, stoically defying oceanic winds over the beach or yearningly looking in at me through a window. Those were divides, dichotomies, dualisms. Person here, tree there. Now we are face to face.

 

And as soon as I pulled it out of the ground, not an easy thing to do, rightly I got a stern warning from the tree: I knew I was dealing with an aspect of being. Charles Darwin speculated about the roots being the tree's "brain", and now we are seeing that the whole underground network of tree roots and fungi are the mind of a system in which both trees and people can coexist. For the tree, knowing and staying attached to its community are one in the same. You might ask who was I to remove it, even as a dying tree, it plays some kind of role for the others around it. But then, who was I to plant it? Like everything else in a system, I am being used too. The trees whisper in my ear: "Plant! Harvest! but watch out! We're here for you, you're here for us." This tree, this system we're in together, we're playing a game, and how we know anything is a joint undertaking.