When is a tree not a tree?


Sometimes the best way to see something – is to see it differently. Thanks to Christo and his project Wrapped Trees, Fondation Beyeler and Berower Park, Riehen, Switzerland 1997-98    the humble tree can be seen more clearly as part of the three dimensional compositon of space. The exaggerated sense of presence wrapping the tree affords gives a greater sense of volume, solid and void and perspective to the overall scene.

And this is an art work that the viewer inhabits, experiences first hand and interacts with as the hours of the day colour it slightly differently. Time to reflect on our place in the world … [ http://rainfromthesky.blogspot.com/2009/03/trees-were-sculpture-without-their.html ]

11 thoughts on “When is a tree not a tree?

  1. Christine

    Yes. Another answer may be when its a bonsai;

    “In an ancient Japanese scroll written in Japan around the Kamakura period, it is translated to say : “To appreciate and find pleasure in curiously curved potted trees is to love deformity”. Whether this was intended as a positive or negative statement, it leaves us to believe that growing dwarfed and twisted trees in containers was an accepted practice among the upper class of Japan by the Kamakura period. By the fourteenth century bonsai was indeed viewed as a highly refined art form, meaning that it must have been an established practice many years before that time.”

    [ http://www.bonsaisite.com/intro1.html ]

  2. Tom Turner

    The history of bonsai gardens began in China, not in Japan, and they were known as Penjing. Going back beyond this, the origin of bonsai gardens lies in the Himalayas and with the Hindu idea that the gods lived on Mount Meru (= Sumeru) and the Buddhist idea that people who lived a virtuous life would live in Nirvana after their earthly lives. Trees were important to this idea because the Buddha became enlightened under a tree and preached his first sermon under a tree and slept under trees and died under trees. Trees were sacred in many parts of Eurasia, including Christo’s native land, and the best surviving groups of examples include Penjing in China, Bonsai in Japan and Ficus religiosa in India. I would like to see a return to the practice of treating some trees as sacred: not in the sense of expecting boons from them but in the sense of having trees ‘set apart’ for respect and veneration. So thank you Christo!

  3. Tom Turner

    I agree with the Washington Post comment on lighting trees: I am not much in favour and not much against.
    London has a policy of protecting trees in designated Conservation Areas but all this really means is that their owners have to get a bureaucrat’s permission before hacking them. I would like to see active management of selected trees to keep them alive as long as possible and then standing as long as possible. We used to have a Queen Elizabeth Oak in Greenwich Park. It died but the ivy kept it upright. Then it blew over and they decided to spray it with poison to keep the wood and kill the ivy. I think this was a bad idea, especially when they killed the last remaining vegetation from the pre-public-park history of Greenwich Park, seeing the vegetation as weeds. The occasion for their removal was a desire to tidy things up for a visit by Prince Philip. It would have been better if he had not come.

  4. Christine

    Humanity is probably still learning how to fully appreciate and care for trees. This phenomenon of ‘not seeing’ happens with many things we just take for granted in our environment.
    [ http://www.ancient-tree-hunt.org.uk/discoveries/newdiscoveries/2009/The+Fortingall+Yew.htm ]

    A bonsai is definitely an interesting present to give someone as a gift on a first date!
    [ http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/contests/dreamtrip2008/april/MUF_KUaanW.JPG.html ]

    So for a bit of inspiration…[ http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1731606,00.html ]

  5. Tom Turner

    Your comment led me to read about The Fortingall Yew. Wiki reports http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortingall_Yew that ‘various estimates have put its age at between 2,000 and 5,000 years; recent research into yew tree ages suggests that it is likely to be nearer the lower limit of 2,000 years’. But even at 2,000 years the Fortingall Yew is thought to be Europe’s oldest tree and therefore the oldest living thing in Europe. Cor blimey! Despite speculation http://www.sacredconnections.co.uk/holyland/fortingallyew.htm its early history is unknown. This may have helped its survival. If there was a known pagan connection, someone would surely have destroyed it. BUT many churches were built on pagan sites (eg Rudston Monolith in the Churchyard of All Saints Church, Rudston Village) and we might as well speculate that the Fortingall Yew was once revered by pagans.

  6. Christine

    Yes. The yew connection extends to Ireland as well it seems.
    [ http://www.irishnews.com/anteolas.asp?catid=5794&subcatid=5799&sid=631023 ] You might find this article ‘On the typology and the worship status of sacred trees with special reference to the Middle East’ of interest.
    [ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1500805/#B26 ]

    The article says “that while all the monotheistic religions fought ancient tree worship, Buddhism elevated it to a higher level of veneration.”

  7. Tom Turner

    It is worth looking at a copy of Ferguson’s book from which the quotation re Buddhism comes (Fergusson J. Tree and Serpent Worship. London: WH Allen; 1868). The illustrations, remarkable for their size and profusion, do not come over very well on this reprint:
    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=2gd8A31DLkQC&pg=PP1&dq=Fergusson+J.+Tree+and+Serpent+Worship.&lr=&as_brr=0#v=onepage&q=&f=false James Ferguson also wrote a remarkable book on Indian architecture.
    The Hindus and Jains, of course, have a similar regard for trees and I am not happy with the phrase ‘tree worship’. Would you say that Christians worship the crucifix, or do they hold it in high regard as a symbol of Christ? And do they hold the crucifixion in high regard as a symbol of altruism?

  8. Christine

    Sure. Thankyou for the reference. We are fortunate to live at a time in history in which this type of discussion can be had more readily. There is an incredible variety of viewpoints in Christianity. Perhaps even with regard to the symbolism, meaning and significance of the crucifix and the crucifixion!

    It would be great to hear an explanation from a Hindu, Jain and/or Buddhist. Perhaps the distinctions which are made in the previous paper on the typology and worship status of sacred trees are useful? Or perhaps a Buddhist, Jain or Hindu would qualify their perspective further?

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