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Tree Worlds, Tree Words

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

Recently I spend some time in a friend's backyard, and as I wandered through her garden, I noticed a tree stump that looked like it had aged for a while. As I looked more closely, I became aware of its unique beauties - the cracks radiating from the center of the tree, the slight saw grooves going in different directions, and the warm tones of its brown wood. My eyes were especially drawn to the whitish area that looked like it was swimming upstream to the center of the tree, with white foam trailing behind it. I began to take photos of it with my iPhone. None of them were a picture of "a stump," in the sense that I was focusing on taking images of the wood itself rather than the whole stump. I simply began to enjoy making "portraits" of aspects of it.

When I glanced at the stump initially, I thought it was just a boring stump, and those words made me dismiss it. It was "just a leftover" that would take too much effort to dig up. But later in the morning, the sunlight brought it alive, so to speak, by highlighting its many colors, textures, and cracks that radiate from its center.

I began to reflect on how my mind initially labeled the stump as "boring" without my actually looking at it very carefully. It was a thing that my mind dismissed without really seeing it or reflecting on its qualities. What did it take to shift my attitude? I realized that the photographer part of my mind was ignoring the "boring" part of my mind and getting my iPhone out of my pocket to take pictures of the stump close up. I took several photos that enabled me to look at the stump more closely on my computer screen. I found that I loved the warm tones of the wood, the various cracks that both radiated out from the core of the tree, and the circular cracks that revealed the growth rings of the tree. My eyes were especially drawn to the unusual white spot that looked like it was swimming upstream toward the heart of the tree, the white wood behind it looking like the wake of a boat.

A couple of observations:

  1. To glance is not to see. A camera, on the other hand, can help us see the world as it is, rather than as our minds think it is with a mere glance. By giving us a window to capture a small part of the world as if it is an artwork, it becomes an artwork.

  2. The subtle grooves appear to be marks of the saw that felled the tree - or at least cut the tree apart after it fell by natural causes. It's a part of the tree's story that I don't know - how had it died? Fallen over in a storm? Become too big to be so close to the house? It's left for us to imagine, which is part of the experience.

Is this image a piece of art? I'm not sure I would print and hang a large print of it. But on my backlit computer screen, the warm colors and woody details draw my eyes into all the facets of this image - and I don't have to bend over to see the stump!


If this image appeals to you, perhaps you might explore taking close-up images of your world that contain interesting light, color, texture, and shapes. Play around with how near or far you place your lens, and see if you rediscover some part of the world around you.

Here's another shot, giving the "big picture," so to speak:

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