If we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves. ~ Edward Burtynsky
My fascination with trees has followed me from childhood. Surrounded by woods, my daily life centered on exploring every nook and cranny of the forest, observing, attentive to its vicissitudes, its breath. I inhaled its stories and silence, order and great energy, flexibility and persistence. The power of these life-giving experiences instilled a deep reverence for the natural world and a profound love of trees.
In my early photographs, trees claimed their rightful place in my work. Their beauty and mystery, form and spirit were, and still are, visually irresistible.
But themes of degradation of our planet have seized my consciousness. And trees are canaries in the coal mine. The alarmingly rapid escalation of tree deaths—26 million trees in the Sierra Nevada alone over the last eight months—as huge numbers of trees succumb to drought, disease, insects, wildfires, and sea-level rise, much of it driven by climate change, has brought an urgency to this ongoing project.
“Who Will Speak for the Trees” is the first line of a poem I wrote in collaboration with Ann Chadwick Reid’s exquisite cut paper triptych, “Cedar, Sage and Pine,” about our vanishing forests. Her artwork and my poetic response were exhibited together in 2011 at Graves Gallery in Wenatchee, Washington.
In a Fleeting World
Who will speak for the trees?
The Giant Cedar, Sage, Ponderosa Pine.
Of the vanishing forestlands and steppe,
they are innocent.
They don’t even know they are
condemned by an old legend
they cannot escape,
and may not have time to prove it.
The trees have no voice.
They are beyond expression,
heaped into gray-splintered rubble,
bulldozed slash, pyres of the ravaged.
Oh, the indescribable losses.
Grief unthought of.
The sorry truth is we go on
believing these soldierly stands
were felled for good reason.
For the peace of mind of human kind.
To satisfy hunger.
So in place of the timber,
we put our faith in abundant crops,
raw materials, rolling pastureland
with whitewashed estates,
an expanse of sky, unrelenting summer.
A vagueness covers everything.
Meanwhile this paradise lost
is apprehended in form,
the woods cut with clarity, naïve force,
as if to give what is otherwise evanescent
a second life, an exquisite reply.