Toss the Agenda, Just Be with the Trees

Chances are, most everyone who reads this has had a special relationship with a tree, or with a type of tree. My sacred groves have changed as I moved from place to place. Oak, beech, maple – those steadfast denizens of temperate North America were boon companions for decades, along with many others. Then seven years ago, the cast of characters changed when I moved to the Pacific northwest. Tall, raggedy lines of Douglas firs took over my horizons while elegant cedars and hemlocks called me deeper into the woods. Last July I moved again and the arboreal lineup shifted. Wandering the land, I saw the familiar silhouettes of Douglas fir, Western Redcedar, and Red alder, but subtle differences began to emerge. The island ecosystems here are different than the lowlands and foothills where I lived before. Colorful, wavy-branched Madrone trees are as plentiful here as Bigleaf maples were around Seattle. I don’t see as many willows now, but the scarce Maritime juniper is an endemic specialty here that’s worth seeking out.

Getting to know the quirks of local habitats is a slow process. Knowledge and understanding build organically as I ply forest trails, stroll beaches and tiptoe across mossy balds. What better way to absorb new information than to rest my gaze on a form, gather its essence at that moment, put the camera to my eye and make a photograph. At that moment, when things go well, I apprehend the whole that I’m situated in, without separation between me and my surroundings. You could say it’s a kind of adoration. The separateness we humans so often feel can quickly drop away when we’re immersed in an activity. Being in nature with all one’s senses alert is one of the more obvious ways to let go of all that makes us feel separate. But even the seemingly passive activity of looking at images can so immersive that we forget ourselves.

Separation can drop away at any time – that is an ever-present possibility. Approaching trees without an agenda about trees – or about anything – makes room for grounded, fresh experience. It’s my wish that you might approach these photographs with a spirit of no agenda. Skip the captions if that makes it easier – they’re here because I enjoy sharing ideas and information. Whatever works, I hope you can just be with the moment.

 

1. Western Redcedars (Thuja plicata), their lower branches thickly coated with moss, stand tall in the mist at Rockport State Park. Redcedars are undeniably graceful, with their sloping trunks that ease into the soil, and their billowing curtains of evergreen leaves.

 

2. This solid twist of driftwood could be from a Redcedar tree.

 

3. Curvy Pacific madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii) intertwine with upright Douglas firs along a path in Deception Pass State Park. The Madrone grows along the west coast of North America from California to British Columbia. In Puget Sound it seems to love steep slopes near water.

 

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4. Feathery evergreen leaves of a Redcedar waft in the breeze. This Pacific northwest species can live over a thousand years, attaining great height and girth. And dignity.

 

5. The green edges of our rocky islands are often set with Shore pines (Pinus contorta) along with Madrones and Douglas firs. On west-facing cliffs where the weather takes no prisoners, trees bend and eventually crumble into luxurious beds of Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and Reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.). This particular grouping makes me think of a dramatic dance: arms flailing, people collapsing on the floor….  This scene may appear static, but even as they decompose, trees lead a dynamic life interacting with the flora and fauna around them.

 

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6. These roots are probably Douglas fir or Shore pine. Research shows that in the same soil as the roots of trees there are vast mycorrhizal networks that pass critical information among trees, along with nutrients, carbon and water. There is a world of intelligent activity under our feet!

 

7. Fire happens. In August, 2016, it happened here, in a protected community forest.  The fire was put out, trails were closed for a time, and now the forest is healing. These Douglas firs were protected by thick bark.

 

8. A fallen Douglas fir has been sawed to make space for a trail. It’s sad to see the giants go, but before long new plants will take root on top of the log. A whole community of moss, ferns, mushrooms, lichens, shrubs and trees can establish itself on a prostrate tree. Not to mention spiders, beetles, squirrels, birds….

 

9. A mature tree that began life atop a nursery log slowly works its roots down into the ground.

 

10. Western hemlock boughs are nice places to lose yourself.

 

11. This species of juniper only grows on a handful of islands in Puget Sound and a few other nearby sites. Named the Maritime juniper (Juniperus maritima), it was differentiated from Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) in 2007, after research showed critical distinctions between the two species. The tree I photographed is next to an oft-traveled park road and is frequently photographed. Maybe all that attention buoys the tree in some mysterious way.

 

12. A tree that fell into a shallow lake provides support for native grasses as the wood gradually weathers into a maze of sinewy, sculptural shapes.

 

13. An old Shore pine lives up to its Latin name, Pinus contorta. This photo was taken in December, and all the green you see is evergreen – trees, mosses, ferns, grasses, and other plants. 

 

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14. In the forest, a neck-breaking upward gaze reveals wildly criss-crossing branches on a Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). I imagine the benefit of all those twists and turns is that each branch finds a little more light.

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15. This Douglas fir is said to be over 800 years old. Only part of it fits into the viewfinder! Step back, and neighboring trees complicate the picture so much that it’s hard to tell which tree is which. Stand underneath, and you feel the deep power of age and maturity, and a solidity of being that emanates beneficence through every crack and fissure.

 

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16. A close-up look at Douglas fir bark reveals congealed sap that cracked open, perhaps from temperature and humidity changes. There’s a whole world here on the skin of the tree, just as there is underneath the soil, high up in the canopy, and deep inside the heartwood.

 

17. The Madrone tree’s naturally peeling bark was used medicinally by indigenous peoples. Western researchers isolated Betulinic acid from the bark, an anti-inflamaotory and antimalarial substance that may also inhibit some cancers.

 

18. An immense Douglas fir spreads its roots like feet. The tree is probably hundreds of years old. Scattered old growth Douglas fir trees hang on in the forests here, and their noble girth does my ego good.  Being dwarfed by these great beings puts me in my places and settles my spirit.

 

19. The shallow, still waters of Little Cranberry Lake mirror a phantasmagoria of dead wood.

 

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20. Leaves of Redcedar flutter in the breeze after morning rain.

 

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21. This tree sings of long journeys by water and the constancy of the tides. It is as wild and raw as the winter wind.

 

***

Mary Oliver died last week. Here is a poem she wrote:

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

-Mary Oliver

 

 

 


109 comments

  1. I started out reading the captions, but then the images just took me ‘away’… another beautiful series! I’ll be off to ‘be with the trees’ pretty quick! Now to go back to the captions! 😀

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    • #11 is utterly exquisite. So delicate, but emitting such strength. So wonderfully framed. I think it was what sucked me away from the captions. And words from Mary Oliver no less. I’ll be returning here.

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      • Well, it’s funny about #11 – that tree is surrounded by stuff & people that can get in the way, and when you do find a good angle, often, like here, the overcast sky is blown out. Also, if you want a close up of the beautiful wood, there are numerous carvings on it – a shame. So on to Silver Efex, which rescued the photo with a preset. Then a little fiddling around, and back to LR for minor adjustments. What a pleasant surprise it was to see the photo turned out well. Thanks Gunta!

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  2. That opening shot is pretty spectacular. Lynn. Almost looks like an illustration or painting. Also like the way you handled the juniper tree in #11: the toning, which suggests an older photo, is perfect for this aging beauty.

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    • Conditions were nice in the forest, with all the mist, though a little dark (#1). And with #11the toning is mostly courtesy Silver Efex, with some fiddling here and there. Thank you Alan….it’s a much-loved tree and it can be hard to photograph, given where it is, so I’m glad this processing worked. As it slowly fades, it will be good to have a record.

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  3. I love “It’s my wish that you might approach these photographs with a spirit of no agenda.”, you have an elegant way with words, my friend. Of these photos, 11 hits me most – that tree is alive and talking, its an Ent!!! Then there are those that make me sigh Ohhhhhh! – 12, 17, 19. And others that get to me are 1, 2, 6, 10, 14. Wonderful stuff – and yes, you’re right, for me at least, everyone reading your post will have had some sort of relationship with trees. A 🙂

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    • I wasn’t sure about that sentence because I worried that it’s too prescriptive – who am I to tell anyone how to look at the world? So it’s good to hear that was OK by you. 🙂 That old juniper is quite special, but Ent? Huh? I think I sigh too, when I see things like those reflections and the amazing beauty of curling Madrone bark. Thank you for pointing out your favs, Adrian. Your relationship(s) with trees has yielded some memorable images.

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      • Ent, yes >>> I gather you’ve never read Lord of the Rings? Well I recommend it – but read The Hobbit first – although I realise these books are not for everyone. A 🙂

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    • I guess these trees are a bit different from what you see around L.A. 😉 I thought about adding some from other places but then decided to keep the tree images within the state of Washington, lest it all get too crazy. Even with the trees near home, there is a lot to see! Thanks Angela.

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      • Actually, although palm trees (at least five different types) seem to be all we get to see in L.A., there are some other amazing species: huge coral trees (L.A.’s official tree) and fig trees with their huge roots and thick trunks; tall eucalyptus trees; Australian tea trees (the ones with twisted trunks near the ground); Italian Stone Pine trees and others. All of these can be seen in one single spot in Santa Monica: Palisades Park, my happy place. 😍

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      • I’d love to see Coral trees in bloom. Yes, you have a lot more variety around you, I’ve always liked Eucalyptus trees, and fig trees of course, and the native trees you see when you get up into the foothills. I’ll have to explore Palisades Park next time I come to LA – thanks Angela!

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  4. A marvelous post, Lynn, and you are to be congratulated for it! I thought it reads like a poem, then looked at the beautiful photos with just the right colors and composition, then came to Mary Oliver’s poem which is such a fitting conclusion to your post. I am glad I came here.

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    • She sure will! But she left a large body of work that we can enjoy again and again. Just think how many walls have “Wild Geese” on them – I bet it’s thousands. It’s very nice of you to say that these photos pay her a good tribute, thank you.

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  5. Beautiful, breathtaking – I’ve been taking great long breaths of your trees and feel filled with a sense of adoration! It’s truly wonderful to be able to sink into pictures like these, more especially because these days I cannot often get to be amongst trees of such distinction – and thank you for Mary Oliver’s poem, the perfect accompaniment and so powerful and true. XXX!

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    • I’m glad I’ve been able to give you some of the pleasure of being among these beauties. We can’t always get out to the places we’d like to be, and images can bring the beauty closer. Thank you for the kind words! 🙂

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    • Thank you, Denise, I’m glad you like the writing, which I was afraid might be a little too precious, and the images. Of course you’re a fellow tree huggerloverphotographer! 😉 #20 was made with one of the vintage Takumar lenses I have – always fun to experiment with. With #4 I used a macro lens and focused partway into the leaves instead of on the one closest to me, so some leaves in front of the lens are out of focus, making it all a little hazy.

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    • Obviously you are another tree lover, Harrie, so I’m glad you enjoyed this post. The two you mention are getting more flat and abstract, which I like, too. I’m going to be in the Netherlands (Leiden) for a few days in April – I don’t know if you’re near there, but it would be fun to meet you.

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      • ☺👍 my daughter studies and lives in Leiden! I don’t drive a car, but by train I can be in Leiden within an hour. So, let’s do it. Let me know what fits into your schedule; may be I have to arrange something with my work.. ✋

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  6. The mossy branches on #1 remind me of looking up at kelp fronds waving in a current. The path in #3 looks familiar, maybe I’ve been there. I like the cedar leaves in #4, looks like they were shot through a veil to soften it, with a nice bokeh to finish the effect. The juniper in #11 reminds me of ancient Bristlecone pines, with seemingly dead branches mated with life, hanging on year after year.

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    • I love the kelp association! That does make sense. You could have easily been on the trail in #3 – it’s the Goose Rock Perimeter trail at Deception Pass. The “veil” those cedar leaves were shot through i actually more cedar leaves. 🙂 You noticed! Yes, that juniper has the feeling of dry climate trees like Rocky Mountain junipers and Bristlecone pines. And the weather here is dryer than the rest of the area, like Seattle, etc. I love those ancient trees in the desert though!

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    • Thank you Lisa…I wish you could be online more often, but I wonder if being online less has had a positive impact on your work. I have the feeling you’re painting more than ever (when you’re not traveling for your shows!), and very happy about it. Have a good week! Thanks for commenting, I appreciate it. 🙂

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      • it seems that life – in Ecuador and before that in Costa Rica – places internet options a long way from where I live. In Costa Rica, those first years required an hour’s drive to the nearest internet option – and sometimes it would be ‘down’ for the day… yes, it is wonderful to be away from the distractions, and if I did not have loved ones who worry about my safety, I would rarely be online… Many say they are relieved when there’s a silence – and then a post arrives with the latest update!

        Viewing your images at home, I still liked #14 the best; it jumped out at me, and I climbed through the branches in hopes of reaching that golden light! There is chaos yet order in the arrangement of those sturdy limbs!
        A friend recently sent me the information about Tree Sisters. https://www.treesisters.org/home/trees Interesting and inspiring. For sure you are a tree sister!

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  7. Trees are wonderful living forms and I think a tree can be a “friend”. A very personal living form, right? I think it is obvious when a tree has gone. We (or at least I 😉 are missing it, don’t we? The silhouette which is so familiar, the typical bark etc. Thank you for your invitation to look at the pictures from a different angle. Your pictures and the trees are so beautiful, so special! I love nr. 12 (there is a feeling like being in the sky, so aerial), 14 to 19 are wonderful, too! 19 is like an elegant composition. 11 is exquisite, 14 (I love the view up into the treetop) and 15 looks so strong and sheltering. What beautiful examples! The bark in red-yellow is fantastic, wow, so is the bark in nr. 16! So colourful! I like theses maritime trees and how they grow, so angular (I couldn’t find an equivalent in the dictionary..”verwinkelt”) and wild. Picture nr. 1 is nice: it looks like a pattern to me 🙂 Yes, trees are special. As I said, they can be friends 🙂 The poem is perfect. Thanks for this voyage into the world of trees, your trees up in the pacific northwest.

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    • It’s interesting you said #12 feels like being in the sky…it seems to be floating because of the flat light on the water, but I’m pretty sure that old tree is stuck in the mud. 🙂 It’s good to read your reactions, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. But of course this is your “territory” too, and you are on very intimate terms with trees. I agree, #1 has a strong pattern. That forest is about an hour away, and we’re going back soon to see it again – it’s really cool. There will be a whole post on Madrone trees in the future (with the peeling red bark) They are incredible. Verwinkelt translated as “nooks and crannies” for me, which means lots of little twists and turns and small spaces. When the bark is smooth like on that juniper, I also think of muscles. I think verwinkelt is good too! Thank you for your thoughts!

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      • I am looking forward to the post about Madrone trees. They are really special. Nooks and crannies – sounds funny, but it seems to fit more than what I found. Intimate term with trees ;-), yes, somehow. Maybe it was a bit too exaggerated, but I love trees and some are very special to me 🙂

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  8. Thank you for inviting me into quiet presence with your photos. So much beauty, and peaceful unmoving groundedness. 1, 11, and 19 are my favourites, though almost all drew me in. I felt as if in the forest. Mary Oliver has long been a fave.
    Alison

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    • And I was just reading your latest post this morning – I’ll comment later, but I really enjoyed it as always, especially for the insights. I think you chose the most elegant images – 1,11,19! Thanks for stopping by, Alison!

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    • Any compliment from you is appreciated because you certainly are adept at photographing trees. I hope to photograph that downed mass of tree roots again, but I think the water level is way up right now. It’s such a pleasure to be watching seasonal changes here. I’ll do a post just on Madrones (the red peeling bark closeup) but I may wait until they flower, so I can include that. Thank you very much, Ken.

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  9. I love photos of trees and these are fantastic! Plus it gives me the opportunity to share with you my new favorite tree quote, which I actually happen to just read last week.

    “The seen tree may be real enough for the sensation of vision, just as the dreamed tree is real enough for the dreamer as long as the dream lasts, but neither can ever become a real tree.”
    ~Hannah Arendt

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  10. It’s a delight to meander through this post. Your interpretation of each tree is heartfelt. I can feel your passion for each image through the composition and text. Thank you for your dedication to one of nature’s seemingly silent creations. Hope that you have had the chance to read The Overstory; it is brilliant and a must read for tree lovers.

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    • Thank you, Sally, it’s a pleasure to read this….I picked up The Overstory once and couldn’t get into it, but several people here are recommending it so obviously, I should look into it again.

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  11. I am brought to tears by your post, Lynn. Your description of immersing yourself into the moment when photographing is beautifully described and a feeling I can fully appreciate. Your images show your reverence for trees and each one captures a unique aspect. Your opening shot of the Red Cedar grove is amazing for its light, colors and composition. The Hemlock Boughs for its complex, yet simple beauty and a scene I often contemplate when I am walking. Beautiful post-processing on the Juniper sepia– they are incredible trees. And your Madrone close-up is gorgeous– I am in love with its bark. Thank you for the Mary Oliver poem and for this beautiful post. I think I mentioned Overstory in the past, as I see Sally mentioned above.

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  12. Those giant coniferous trees are simply amazing. But I also love their deciduous equivalents. I thoroughly enjoyed these images. Furthermore I agree with Jane. Your description of the interaction between you and Mother Nature is lovely.

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  13. Oh, yes, my tree in the backyard of our house in River Grove, Illinois, and my father’s photograph of me in it. How I loved that tree. Maybe that was the beginning of loving so many other trees, and trees in general. You’ve written a beautiful narrative (I especially like “it’s a kind of adoration” and what you say about separateness and immersion) and shown us a stunning photo (of the Western Red Cedars) to start this series. Those moss-covered branches are so cool! I like that you have caught two very different greens in this photograph, and I love that pinky purple haze. This is an altogether gorgeous photograph. The curvy Pacific madrone trees (#3) appeal to me with their own beauty while making me think of the curvy live oaks I walked among in Florida’s Myakka River State Park two days ago. I appreciate your reminder of the cycle of life in the caption to #5. The chartreuse and red stripes on the tree trunk: are those lichen? They’re a nice contrast to the more calming greens that surround the tree. Your link to the Smithsonian article about the hidden life of trees is a welcome link in the caption to your beautiful #6 photograph. And what are the chances that such an article would mention a scientist whose last name begins with the same four letters as yours, and take us to the same part of the world that you inhabit??? Love the tonal contrast, not to mention the composition, in #7. There you go again with the cycle of life in #8’s caption. Love that. What a beautiful portrait you’ve made in #9. The backlighting in #14 helps illustrate your point so well. You’ve captured the ancient quality of the 800-year-old Douglas fir in #15. I love the abstract image coupled with your explanation in #16. And, finally, thank you for the Mary Oliver poem, so fitting. I think this is my favorite post of yours—so far. It’s just lovely.

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    • Thank you Linda, for the close reading and detailed reply. We moved three times when I was young but there were a number of special trees at the house we were in the longest, and that was a foundation. I like that you have that photo. Also that you like the narrative here. 🙂 The colors in the first photo – you’re right, it was beautiful there, and that light must have enhanced the warm vs. cool green differences. Live oaks are another favorite of mine, and I remember the curves of the southern one on the GA coast. That chartreuse color is from a lichen that grows on a lot of tree trunks around here, especially near the water, but I’m not sure about the reddish color on that tree. I completely missed the name of the German “tree whisperer” – thanks for noticing. He manages an ancient beech forest…maybe I could go there…:-) Nice to know you like the black and white (#7). That’s an interesting forest, visually, with all the burn marks. #16 is a Lindaesque kind of image, I think. I was happy to find that little abstract in the sap, very happy. It’s really good to hear your thoughts on this….the number of “willing subjects” around here is uncountable, so no doubt, I will keep going.

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  14. Trees. They are wonderful. I especially enjoyed the roots and the old juniper, oft photographed you say. Easy to see why.

    Interesting that I see this after reading some Emerson. A man (nowadays we’d say person) is not alone while reading but is so while in Nature. When we walk among the trees we are also not alone, but we are experiencing Nature and are able to get a little closer to ourselves. It was nice to see your images with Emerson on my mind.

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  15. The images are wonderful, as always. I was glad to find the Mary Oliver poem at the end. It’s new to me, which isn’t surprising. Her production over the years was so great that new discoveries always are taking place. In that sense, her poems and the trees are alike. We speak easily of not seeing the forest for the trees, but it seems to me the opposite is more often true. We see the forest, but to truly see an individual tree (or poem) in all its beauty and quirkiness is something different, and harder.

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    • That poem was new to me too – I looked for a poem of hers that featured trees. This one has a message a little like “Wild Geese” and what’s not to like about that, right? Your thoughts about seeing individual trees, instead of the forest, as the saying goes, is interesting. It’s nice to think of them as individuals, which they certainly are, while under the soil, many of them are well connected, passing information back and forth, while we are unaware. Wow, it’s all pretty complex! 🙂

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    • That’s interesting…I was excited to have a view where the light made it seem like the stump was floating. It was lucky because in that place on the trail, there are very few places you can stand without being in the water or somewhere totally awkward. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

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    • Thank you for being here, Scott….did you hear that we’ve been hit by seriously cold weather? It’s at or below freezing just about every day, all day, lately. I think we get to 40 degrees next Saturday. Snow and ice on the roads, and very little sand or salt to make driving workable. Phoenix is looking real good….. 🙂

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