Reva Sharon is a Contributing Editor for The Drunken Boat.
All work in Living With Trees is copyrighted to Reva Sharon. All rights reserved. No work may be copied in any medium without written permission.
In earlier issues:
Reva Sharon's Jerusalem Flowers
Reva's collaboration with Charles Fishman's poetry Frozen Earth, Frozen Sky
Living with Trees
by Reva Sharon
Seven years ago I had a photo-essay about trees published in The Jerusalem Post Magazine. It was an homage to trees for the holiday Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the Trees. I looked at it as I was preparing to write some commentary to accompany the close-up photographs of trees that appear in this Summer Issue of The Drunken Boat. I will repeat some of the appropriate passages in this commentary, and I will put those passages in quotation marks.
“The unfolding of life on Earth in Genesis reveals the tree as fact and metaphor – fruit trees that shall be watered by the rivers that flow out of Eden, and the trees of Life and Knowledge.” Those of us who develop relationships with trees soon learn that their realities touch something very deep in the human psyche, as do the metaphors, old and new.
My own relationship with trees began early in my life. “When I was a child, the highest branches of a maple tree that grew on my Brooklyn street were just below my bedroom window. We matured together through the years, and I learned about seasons from it, and from a cherry tree in my grandmother's yard.”
In the foothills of the Catskill mountains where my family spent summers I had the opportunity to explore woodlands. It is an experience I repeat often in the forests of Israel where I now live. “When I walk a high ridge path through a forest, the sound of wind through the pines in the Judean hills evokes a memory of the sound of gentle tides rolling in on the shores of the Florida keys.” Like trees my roots grow deep, but in my case my roots are both in the land of my birth, America, and in my homeland, Israel.
In this series the Banyan tree was photographed in Weston, Florida, the aspen in Taos, New Mexico. All the others were photographed in Jerusalem, Israel.
When encountering a Banyan, who could not envision dryads moving between the bark and the aerial roots? And the patterns on the aspen bark certainly stimulates the imagination to see a tree spirit.
“For a number of years I have been photographing trees, spending time getting to know them, touching them, listening.” One theory I have is that ancient peoples who lived so close to nature, found patterns like the one on the aspen, like the shape of a mask created by the bark peeling on the eucalyptus, and that these were the inspiration for masks, totems, carvings, paintings and designs. Just look carefully and you will find a number of bird shapes in the bark of the cypress.
“Each tree I find is distinct. The beauty of their forms, the texture of their trunks, the shape of their crowns, even their scars mark them as unique.” The carob tree is not only scarred but much of the bark is torn away and the interior of the tree is exposed. And remarkably, there is a hole in the tree that goes straight through and you can see a patch of sky through that hole. The tree eyes on the poplar are formed where branches had been pruned.
Myths of the green man or green woman are “described by John Fowles in his book, The Tree, and [were] written about by naturalist W. H. Hudson. They awaken the green spirit in each of us that responds to the natural world.”
The palm, the carob, and the fig tree are not only native to Israel, they are all mentioned in the Bible. Not once but a number of times the fig tree is mentioned by several of the prophets, and they speak of it when talking of the Children of Israel in their homeland where each person shall have a fig tree to sit under. We learn the meaning of roots from trees. The fig is a wonderful shade tree, but is also a fruit tree, and in August one can wander among wild fig trees as the fruit ripens and the air is sultry with their fragrance. The palm tree photograph in this series is a variety with very wide fronds. When one looks up through these fronds light from the sun makes them translucent and wonderful patterns form through the layers.
“Trees. Models of individuality: inspiration for artists. Who could imagine a Turner landscape without his towering pines? Who could not imagine Van Gogh at home in Israel's landscapes when we envision his cypress trees? And what of Hundertwasser, whose architecture and environmental considerations insist that trees be planted on roofs and balconies?”
Here in Israel we plant trees in celebration of the birth of babies, to honor many of life's occasions, in memory of those who die. “And when we plant the earth yields under our spades. Fragile seedlings take root.” In woodlands, on tree lined streets, in gardens and parks, we “walk or stand or wander or rest in the shade as the wind sings through the leaves above us.”