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Time To Discover - The Patterns Found In Trees

Photograph by: Chi Kin LaiWhile this time of the year isn’t my favorite, being more of a spring blossom, I love the art found in the garden and that has a lot to do with the cardinal principles of art.  True beauty calls for structure, it’s a lot more than skin deep, and Mother Nature’s art — even in the dead of winter — is magnificent, if you just are willing to look beyond the obvious.

Some of us understand that art springs forth from within.  Most artists recognize this when they plan and sketch an idea.  Musical composers understand this when it comes to harmony.  Every writer knows it’s all about the beginning, long before the end. 

However, none of us trump Mother Nature who is the greatest creative artist of all. 

It is she who builds the beauty of her loveliest trees upon a structure of trunk and brand and twig, whose perfection of weight and line is as amazing, even if it is mostly under appreciated and under studied.

Right now, we are in the those of the season of falling leaves, one in which the proportioned frameworks of the trees become clearly apparent.  Since last spring we have known our elms, maples, and the rest of our trees, chiefly as completed and finished pictures. 

Our eyes have become used to them as masses and contours — as mature, well-rounded bodies.  In the presence of their full leaved beauty the supports of that perfection, the literal foundations on which it is built, have slipped into the background.

However, from now until another season until Mother Nature re clothes those bare frames with greenery, it is they that will dominate. 

If we look a bit deeper and farther than their mere bareness we will discover perhaps unsuspected appeals quite as intriguing as any that spring and summer can bring upon them.

Look up into a big Tulip Tree some November day and see how perfectly its frame is developed to carry the towering leafy column it will become next summer.  No long, whippy branches here, but rather short, stuffy ones angling sharply out from a trunk as straight and beautifully tapered as the mast of any ship. 

Until, in extreme age, those sturdy arms give way bit by bit to the buffeting of the elements, the erect, symmetrical form will stand unmarred.  Even in senility the mast like trunk will still rise, a few persistent branches flying from its head like storm torn sails.

How different is the structure of a Sugar Maple — another rounded and even denser pyramid in middle age, but as it grows more elderly, a mighty mass that tends to be broadest at the top.    Here form is achieved not by a single trunk through the tree’s full height, but by a relatively short, heavy one which quickly divides into several powerful arms which swing up and out in such fashion that, as they divide and subdivide, they completely encircle the original vertical line of growth.

The Sugar Maple, more than any other of its race that I know, is a tree of amazing long, comparatively slender branches reaching boldly for the sky.  One might suspect them of being unduly vulnerable to wind and ice damage, but such is not ordinarily the case.

Perhaps the secret of their resistance lies partly in the strength of their wood, and partly in the relatively small number of important crotches which might give way.  Anyway, an unshapely Sugar Maple is an infrequent sight, unless it has been struck by lightning or crowded by other growths. 

It’s inner beauty is the beauty of effortless strength, of endurance that stems from a perfection of balance and proportion, hard to match.

For centuries the oak has been a symbol of ruggedness and endurance — and deservedly so.  One could look far without finding better demonstrations of these qualities, or more impressive examples of powerful tree structure of the uncompromising type, than our own native Black and Red Oaks, to cite only two species.  However, somewhere in the ancestry of the White Oak there must have been an impish fellow who decided he’d show posterity how to be graceful and beautifully built as well as strong, for here is a tree that breaks a family tradition by branching so low and freely that, many times, it is broader than it is tall.

More than this, the White Oak’s main limbs are surprisingly long, with a sense of setting out to go somewhere — and succeeding.  There are few more eye satisfying trees in the whole winter landscape, or worthier of study as proof that it’s the framework that counts, after all.

The American Elm tree, in its typical vase form, achieves grace and majesty by quite different means.  There is something singularly deliberate and assured about its beauty, especially in winter.  An Elm has no use for angles or erratic changes of direction.  Like its parents and grandparents through untold generations, it was born an aristocrat.  It is as sure of its social position, that is certain.

As you might expect, it is exceptionally detailed in its perfection.   The main branches, as they ascend and spread outward, gain slenderness so faultlessly that one is put to it to say where the change begins.  To the tips of the last drooping twigs, where in May the Baltimore Orioles swing their intricately woven nests, the flowing lines move without a single cross current.

Yet, there are other “detailed trees” — like the Birches, for example, and the Sycamore, and the Pepperidge.  However, in the elm, the effect is produced without the slightest sense of effort.  No wonder New England states are proud of her!

So this time of the year has me thinking thus far about the structure of trees as a basis for their beauty — perhaps “a major portion of it” would be putting it better.  However, there is another important factor which for obvious reasons appears primarily in the leafless season, and that is the colors which are found in their bark — not merely of one species as compared with another, but often in different parts of the same tree.

If someone were to ask you to name instantly the color of tree bark, the changes are you’d say “gray” or maybe “brown.”  Well, as a generality the first of those answers would come pretty close to the mark, and the second not so close.  But what about the almost snowy trunk bark and faintly reddish terminal twigs of a large Gray Birch, or the oddly blotched bole and large branches of a Sycamore, or the greenish bark of young Sassafras growth, or the definite yellow of some of the Willows?

Certainly too, there is no hint of brown in the marvelous tracery of silvery which an old American Beech flings across the blue of a winter sky.  Anyone who has seen any wooded hillside in Vermont of New Hampshire stands ready to demonstrate, from November to May, that the Canoe Birch is almost startlingly white.

The full story of a tree effects in winter is a long one and amazingly varied.  I have only touched on a few of its highlights, simply because it’s all waiting for — you — to discover.  Who wants to read a book if everything in it is known beforehand?  After all, first-hand discovery is the most fascinating adventure to be found — in the patterns found in trees.  So perhaps, I’ve given you a challenge — take the time to discover what patterns your trees might have in store for you.

If You’d Like To Know More!

Guide To Photographing Trees

10 Effective Tips For Photographing Trees Successfully

How To Take Beautiful Tree Photos