A walk through the Redwoods – Redwood NP

Mossy smells invade the senses, decay of rotting wood and fungi provide the fuel to create the smell of the forest, the scent of somewhere new. For this forest is different to the Humboldt Redwoods, this forest, high in the Del Norte hills above the Klamath River is more lush, more verdant, more damp. The tinder dry of the Eel River Redwoods, baked in the hot Californian sun, gives way to the more temperate climate of Northern California, making a same-same-but-different world for the tree-lovers to explore. High in the tallest trees on Earth, wind rustles the tops unbeknown to the viewer below, showering tiny fragments of bark and leaf to the floor hundreds of feet below, providing an ever growing carpet of organic matter to feed and sustain. A kind of organic snow, fluttering down and carpeting the world is a silent hush. Moisture hangs high in the trees tops, catching misted droplets on the wind in the stubby branches, each tiny leaf drawing up to feed the huge trunks below. Huge thirsty trunks, like Giants’ drinking straws, sucking moisture from earth and sky. Gallons of water a day creeping up their capillary veins, pressurised by gravity, pumping up the centre, travelling ever skyward.

The shallow roots, bare for all to see above the surface, like lace coasters placed under the tree to stop it staining the forest floor, weak and unstable alone; But there is strength in numbers. Each lacy mat interweaved like a spider’s web with its closest neighbour’s, again and again in a repeated pattern across the forest floor, interlocking like spores of fungi just below the surface. No one deep tap-root to keep them up, just the lacy mat woven intricately across the landscape. Uproot one, and the rest come tumbling down. One weakens the next, they fall like dominoes, like a giant game of skittles taking each other out.A lesson learnt; A team is only as good as its weakest member. It’s the law of the jungle. Gossamer threads of web float gently between the trees, mile upon mile of silver crochet looped between the trees. Deep into the forest, climb after climb, up mountainside and creek, a silence falls. Peace on Earth. No roads, no phones, no planes, no voices – just the sound of human breathing. Sit silent in contemplation, in awe. Craned neck, wide eyes, listening ears. Suddenly, as if tuning in and out on a fuzzy Nature FM, the sounds of the forest takes over the senses. Birdsong, shrill and sweet, chattering squirrels, the buzz of a bee. Cracking twigs fall as flotsam from the mighty branches, a howl, a squeak, a sigh. Tinkling water in a stream deep below in the valley bottom, Man can feel alive here, breathing pure, intoxicating, sleep inducing oxygen, delivered fresh to your nose by the trees. Closed eyes make the sound more acute, warm sunshine falls on the face thrust upwards to allow the senses to open wide. Smell – perfume, touch – rough and smooth, sight – astounding, sound – like music, all working on overdrive.

Taste, what does this place taste like? Air is sweet, like violets and citronella rolled into one, with a hint of tabacco with a mushroom undertone. Sweet, like nature’s wine, fermented and blended to its finest mix. Climb higher and higher in the green cathedral, pass through trunks split in two, pass underneath roots, pass new saplings on old growth, pass ferns and lichen, pass the tickling branches that ought to be scratchy but are in fact soft and brushy with a lemony tang. Sideways Tree that had slipped down the hill, in amongst the ferns, a peculiar angle cutting through the vertical. A horizontal accident in a vertical world, creates a pathway across the ferns, a forest motorway for insect and beast. Burnt Tree looking like brown wrapping paper singed on a Christmas fire, papery bark brown and shredded, charcoaly and sooty. Life giving fire, germinates seeds, cleanses the forest, put everything back to square one and gives everything a fighting chance. Three massively proud trees, so straight, so big, so tall, like three brothers, strong and silent, protectors of the family.

 

Nothing in the world could separate them, save a collective disaster. Colluding trees, whispering trees that gang-up together and create an army, trees that stand alone like sentinels at a palace gate, strong and silent, keeping the Queen’s business to themselves. Mischievous Trees, children of the forest, that plot and plan an escape that will never happen. Teenage Trees that stand and sulk, not caring whether you speak or not, all wearing the hoody-uniform of the forest. Efficient Trees, who go about their forest business with no waste of energy, tall, straight, narrow, branches where they should be, everything in its place. Boss Trees, a natural authority, Timid Trees, servile and productive, the Joker Tree, bucking the trend and growing at all angles desperately wanting to be noticed. Trees, that in their arborial city, have got the balance just right. No racing to be best, juts giving way to the natural order of things, just being, an acceptance that this is the way of the world. How much we would love to be a bird soaring amongst the canopy and the big fat trunks, looking down on ferns, like exploding green fireworks below, over branches that create a horizontal matrix, touching fingers, reaching out. Soaring in and out the airborne mist, watching and waiting. Still, warm, cosy, comfortable, like a scented bath, the forest embraces. Just five more minutes, or even ten? Real life suspended in a moment of deep pleasure, surely nothing can be better than this? Maybe this IS real life? What the world is meant to be. Maybe we have got it all wrong. Some sit at the Antarctic, gazing on white-wilderness imagining the same, some sit atop Everest, the world at their feet. Some sail the Seven Seas, some marvel at the ocean-deep, some sit at a desert oasis and know the peace. Some climb the towers of Cathedrals, and look out from the Empire State Building across the man-made wonder that is New York, but if comparison is the name of the game, then this compares on an even scale. The Mighty Redwoods of Northern California, unique, breathing, living Giants, whose majesty is a world-equal.

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A life in the trees

Wow…so I received a tweet about a 2 part series on BBC Radio4 documentary on the Coastal Redwood! Blown away, really made my heart thump! Not only was the narration and the story good, but I felt like I could really relate to everything being said. Even just the sound of the forest, its not something forgotten quickly. It bought back many fond memories, and feelings, and made me re read my all time favorite book ‘Tall Trees’ by Richard Preston. Anyone who is an utter tree geek (self confessed of course!!) will understand, a book dedicated to the exploration and findings of these gentle giants!

Sorry..gone off the point… if you are in anyway interested in the natural history, or even the cultural significance of this piece you must listen…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01bwmw4/Nature_Series_5_James_and_the_Giant_Redwoods_Part_One/

But also take a look at

http://alifeinthetrees.wordpress.com/

Eeekk, excited!! That is all.

Tall Order

Embarking on the final few months of a degree in Marine and Natural History photography is a daunting thing. My recent works have taken a bit of a new angle, looking at different technical styles of photography whilst trying to intergrate the beauty and trueness of the subjects. Sticking with recent themes of trees, I have been looking at them in their environment, somewhat of a trend over the past few years within the movement of nature, wildlife or environmental photography. To show the subject, whether flora or fauna in its natural habitat breeds importance and a need to know what is both in and out of the picture, this can equally become somewhat important.

So, looking at different technical styles, I have been looking at the tree by night, or low light. This has enabled me to capture so much more detail than in good lighting conditions. It has also meant that I have been able to customise the lighting, to enable me to capture the trees details, almost like fingers of light expanding into the dark night.

So here are some current works…ok so not perfect by any stretch, not looking for any awards here, possibly some constructive criticism, or even pointers. Which brings me to my next subject.. critiquing my own work, something none of us enjoy doing I am sure.

Ferdynand Zweig Travel Schlorship – University College Falmouth

August

Zweig Memorial Travel Scholarship

As part of my degree in Marine and Natural History Photography, my main focus of study is within flora, and specific flora to an environment. My past studies have been focused on the sub tropical plant species in Cornwall and the classical Cornish ravine gardens that adorn our south coastline. I am also interested in the plant life that takes hold on the fringes of the north coast of Cornwall, where it is hard to survive as any plant of shrub. This study has fascinated me for years, and will in no doubt carry on to catch my attention.

But for now my focus is on trees, not just any trees, the Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). My addiction with this tree started a few years ago on a visit to a local arboretum where this tree just rises out of the ground, and takes on a whole being, it is so big, so grand that it has a real sense of being, its presence is so intense it would be near on impossible to miss it! A true celebration of stature and majesty. So after visiting this tree on many occasions throughout the year, in daylight, nightlight, rain, and sun its presence and life story just took a hold of me and still has not let me go!
Last year, a copy of National Geographic made its way into my post box, on the front cover, an image of Steve Sillet climbing an old growth redwood in California. As you go onto to explore the issue and Mike Fays redwood transect you will come to a pull out image of a coast redwood, a (much) extended image of the front cover! This image has inspired me, not because I think I could even be technically capable of taking an image like this yet, but through the ideas oh how long one of these trees has been in existence and how long it took to create an image like this. Its such a strong living image, and image with so much power to be able to tell a story of this tree, not in terms of human history but ecological history. I love the way it explores the canopy, the ‘forests in the sky’ and its study of how the tree is such a life support system for so many other beings, both flora and fauna.
In Febuary of this year (2010) I decided to apply for the Zweig memorial scholarship through the university. I proposed to visit these trees following a journey much like Mike Fays (however, sadly not enough time to do it on foot!), to explore the ecological journey of these trees from southern most coast redwood in the central coast of California, to the northern most of trees in the parks on the borders of California and Oregon. And to study the cultural and social status that these trees have, why people are drawn to them, what makes them stay and what makes them create from the landscape surrounding them.
I will be visiting the Humboldt State University Library where much of the original images are kept of the first logging and lumber companies in the Humboldt county. From there I will be meeting a scultpor who creates pieces from redwood that has fallen, or is made from deadwood, and a few other meetings in various places.
I will of course, be recording my journey photographically and through film and sound recordings, and journals I keep on my travels. This will form the main parts to my exhibition as I wanted to create a journey piece, about socio cultural influence landscape has on man. However, this could all change…who knows!!
So for now, I leave on Monday morning to LA where the adventure will begin! So exciting!
I have included a small reading list of some of the best books that I have read regarding these amazing trees.
Wild Trees – Richard Preston
Redwood Classic – Ralph W Andrews

Vertical Eden..the exhibition

This body of work is close to my heart; it expands on my study of trees within a cultural context. The trees in question are the tallest and largest in the world, the Sequoia semperviren.

This subject, in a literal sense, is so big I wanted to portray it in great proportion in able to gain real perspective of the natural environment, the beauty, the rawness and to allow the audience to feel a real sense of place from the image.

As a collection of images representative of the journey though the trees, they are telling a story of socio cultural significance, ecological values, and portray the human impacts and aspects in order to gain a real sense of diversity. I want my audience to feel a relationship to the scale of the images, to be able to gain a sense of perspective. This environment has a real magical quality to it, with each tree having an individual personality, a sense of awesomeness, in the true sense of the word. There is something unique about being among these Redwoods, they have been standing like sentinels to the world around them for centuries, one feels like you can really gain wisdom from just being around them and underneath them.

Being in the old growth redwood forests is a singular experience, an experience that is never the same twice. The light takes on a different colour as it filters itself through the trees, constantly changing every second, with each and every step you gain a different sense of light.

The set of smaller images tell the story of our influence on this environment, ecological development, and beauty. Under the titles of Culture, Lifestyle, Destruction, Impact, Environment and Symbiosis, I want to portray a view that destruction is not just from direct human interaction, and that Symbiosis isn’t just about man and nature living along side each other. The ideas about ecological value and the wealth of this environment could not thrive, nor would it have been a war zone without the ideas of symbiosis.

After visiting the Humboldt State University in Eureka, and engaging within research within the Humboldt Room (a room dedicated solely to the study and history of the Coastal Redwood) I learnt how much turmoil there was surrounding this environment and how precious it is to each walk of life within the community for so many different reasons, from wealth of industry to love and appreciation.
This piece is all about that portrayal or significances to those walks of life and variations in which is it perceived. A real sense of perspective.

Exhibition .. sneak peek!

Hi all, so this is my first post in a long long time, am just getting back into blogging after so much blogging during my trip. So here comes the final, my exhibition, verticaleden in print! Very exciting. So last week put my prints in for order after a week of editing umming and arrring over what stays and what goes. In my view, simplicity is best, especially with these images, with this subject. The subject is so big, how does one display and portray this subject of great proportion in order to gain real perspecitive of the nautral environment, the beauty and my view, my take on what it really meant to be there.

There is no real rhyme nor reason as to why these images were the ones I picked. As a journey piece about socio-cultural siginificane and environmental values it was important to me to portray the human aspects within my images. As a natural history photographer I found this difficult to imagine, but with such an extensive and tall subject I wanted to give the viewer some reason to identify with the images, some perspective.

So I shall post more when the exhibition is hung, as dont want to give to much away..to those of you visiting anyway!!

The Christmas Tree Farm

Sun glints low in the winter sky, filtering through the trees creating an ethereal atmosphere through the lightly forming mist. Ground damp with the falling dew, moisture sucked from the air and deposited on the paths, the rooftops and the driveway down to the Christmas Tree Farm.

A busy scene, with cars parked at a jaunty angle on the steep farmyard slope, car boots open, roof racks tied with rope, an incarcerated barking dog breathing heavily on the misted up window. Wellies on, for even if just entering the tree-barn, the spirit of the farm visit must be kept alive.

On entering the open-fronted barn, excited chatter emanates from its bowels. On the left, Norway Spruce, full and bushy, dark bluey-green with a hint of violet, branches thrusting slightly skyward, dense and pungent, pine fresh, and spiky to the touch.  On the right, the Nordman Fir, expensive, statuesque and stately, silvery green with a hint of turquoise, each needle defined and organised into a tessalated pattern by nature, branches poking sideways and fun-like, inviting temptation to adorn. Soft to the touch, needles smooth like chain-mail, linking together and only ruffled one-way like a dog’s coat.

Decisions. They have to be made. Children in heightened states of excitement dive into the green jungle of ready-cut trees, pulling out a possibility, twirling it round like a spinning top and then discarding – not tall enough, wide enough, conical in shape enough. Each taste different, not realising that when removed from its faithful counterparts and isolated in the home, decorated with family favourites, it is the perfect tree ready to be pronounced the best Christmas tree – ever.

Stacked up trees, leaning against the slatted wooden walls of the barn, graded roughly in height, silent and waiting. An old black and white sheep dog, tail wagging greets excited visitors, delighted by the constant attention and extra pats. Dog-breath vapour in the cold damp air, tail causing a small breeze and knee-level creating a slight chill just above the welly-line.

In the corner, stacked together, tress with big wooden labels, marked with a name and a date, trees pre-chosen whilst growing in the plantation, waiting silently, untouched until some little bright face in a woolly hat and mittens comes to claim his own. Outside in the yard, more labelled trees, all waiting for an owner who has spent the winter so far, imagining the tree growing in the field, imagining the tree in the rain and the wind, the sun and the mist, the light and the dark, the snow and the frost, steady and upright in the frozen ground. A tree, seen in the mind’s eye long before the reality of its being adorns a corner of the lounge. Dare it be suggested that this tree, treated like a welcome guest, takes pride of place at the head of the family celebration, looking down on the family to whom it now belongs, in a majestic and peace-giving way. For something so naturally beautiful, really needs no adornment, but, as is the way of Christmas, it gets a sprinkling of sparkle and shine, glitter and gold, tinsel and treats.

The yard, surrounded by other ramshackle authentic barns and outbuildings, smells of a heady mix of wood and coal smoke pouring from the chimney of a rambling outdated bungalow. One imagines that inside things have not changed for 50 years, the kitchen table, the dog basket in front of the aga stove. Warm wintry smells fill the cold damp air, the smell of comfort, of evenings by the fire, of Gran’s house and the ?? fire, of jacket potatoes cooked in the embers in the ash-tray underneath. Drifts of smoke on the Cornish winter air, filling the place with a scented sense of place, adding to the atmosphere that is the day for choosing a Christmas Tree.

An old tractor, some hay bales and a serious carpet of pine needles add to the pungent smell creating an atmosphere second to none, of a working farm, of a family making a living, of the joy of Christmas. Sacks of potatoes stacked on a pallet, brown knobbly bags stuffed full of the winter staple, like Santa’s sack, piled high and sold to accompany the trees, almost as though farmland bed-mates should not be split up. Tasty, smooth skinned fist sized browny-white potatoes, a feast for a king, destined for many a Christmas table.

The farmer, an bashful old-boy in a loose brown coat, thick sweater and heavy boots, smiles beatifically at the children and parents clamouring to choose their favourite tree. A couple of farm hands unload the trees from the tractor and trailer, fresh back from the fields, sawing off the scrappy lower branches and discarding them in a pile behind the shed. A younger man, short haircut and earing, wearing a parka-style khaki coat and warm boots excitedly assists in the fun, by grasping trees from the stacked-up leaning lines and parades them up and down the barn to the excited squeals of children and discerning looks of parents. Modelling the trees as though in some fashion-week cat walk, like this year’s Collection depended on the barn-style exposure, he twirls the trees and with a sweep of the hand demonstrates the benefit of each and every feature. The height, the width, the even branches, the cluster at the top for the fairy, or maybe the Christmas star? The quirky, the odd and the downright wrong of each and every tree, all falling on the critical gaze. Cheerful chatter, the merits and disfigurement of each tree discussed and rejected and gleeful decisions made.

The old farmer, dog by his side, smiles and nods at happy people, looking as though his heart would burst. Never was there so much joy in the face of one man. A bashful smile and a few Cornish lilting words, an eager nod and a clasping of hands, like a charismatic Pontif, overseeing his flock, paying homage to his followers. Not a hint of arrogance, or ownership, or authority, or greed, just a man captivated by the sheer pleasure of seeing children and mums and dads and grannies and granddads so happy.

His mission starts in early autumn, when one by one, families drift by his farm, to choose their tree. An invitation into the waiting barn to choose a wooden label, hole drilled in the top threaded with a length of baling twine. Marker pen given to the child, the name of the tree-owner and the date for collection marked for future reference. A short smiley noddy conversation with the old farmer, a wave of the hand in the general direction of the Christmas Tree plantations and an unaccompanied sploshy welly-walk down the muddy path leads the purveyors of this ultimate Christmas treat to their destination.

There they are, like row upon row of green soldiers standing to attention in the south facing sloping fields, standing as though in an adoption parade, all saying ‘choose me, choose ME’. Mud and straw underfoot, the task begins of walking, because one can, up and down the rows and rows of trees, hand dragging across the branches like dragging a stick on a railing. Why does it matter what it feels like? Senses are piqued, the smell and feel of the fields in the weak autumn-winter sun is comforting, the silence that surrounds the trees, the oxygen they give back to the World, one can almost hear them breathe.

Small children make the trees look bigger, adults walk among them, standing tall and looking down into the needly-crowns, imagining that fairy or the Christmas star. Like a prickly-piney maze, criss-crossing the Cornish landscape, a catch-crop to provide farm income, in between the daffodils sold in the lay-by in spring and the smooth potatoes in their brown paper sacks.

Choosing the tree is the hardest thing of all, and when done, the wooden tag is tied with pride. The tree has an owner and its new life has begun.

A crop it is, like wheat or barley or cabbage, growing trees for cutting and sale is the industry here, like growing cut flowers or spuds. For those who worry for the trees, who try to be green and sustainable by buying a tree in a pot, this is not their place. This place is for the person who loves the trees for what they are, who has loved the trees for the seven years they take to grow this big, for the smell and the experience of visiting the farm and the old farmer who was sent as a Christmas Tree Angel, put on this Earth for the sole purpose of making Christmas special for hundreds of children and families across his patch.

A tight and meaningful handshake, a gentle nod and a Christmas word, and the deal is done. Money changes hands, but gladly given. Tree netted and carried to the car, potatoes dumped heavily in the boot, straw and mud scraped from wellies and children pile back into the car. Cheery waves as the car departs up the muddy drive.

Darkness falls and the image of the old farmer, sweeping up the needles and clippings, preparing for the next day with his faithful dog at his side, walking across the silent Christmas tree filled yard back to his bungalow, to his elderly wife, who smiles and joins in the tales of Christmas Tree children and wooden label skulduggery (for this does happen to be sure), is peaceful in his armchair, imagining what good fortune he has to be the purveyor of such joy.

Notes from Westonbirt

Glory. sun shines through leaves creating a golden haze, like God glinting with a magnifyimg glass from on high. Spectrum of red yellow orange through to rust and gold leaves on just one branch, decorated like a golden challice on a byzantine altar. Clear, bright cold air enhances the scene, not a flutter on a breeze, no movement, as though permanently fixed in time. The leaves of gold and burnished red like crimson enamel,  their faces lifted towards the sun, stand proud and unaware of their photogenic beauty. The stir they cause, the human wonder in a arborial wonderland, the click of cameras, gasps of amazement, drawn breath with wonder. Children play hide n seek among the leaf-drop,  mums count, dads chase, granparents lean on sticks, eyes sheilded from the glare, too bright to handle, like an apparition of halo gold to dazzle the eyes. Smells of leaf mould entagled with damp earth, so English, so primordial, so pungent. A world to compare, cherry blossom time in japan, autumn glory in the english countryside, a similacrum of another country, recreated beauty to delight the Western eye.

Tioga Road

The man from Mariposa, who we met in Anchor Bay, when Yosemite was just a dream and the sea was washing starfish on the shore, described the view from Tioga Road as follows:
“The way I see it, its like someone took a giant ice-cream scopp and dug out the tops of the mountains along the ridge”. This description is unrivalled for that is exactly what it SI like, a huge tub of granite=grey ice cream , dug into hungrilywith that scoop, carving out fussures and valleys, gulleys and points in the exceptional tub of granite=ripple.
The afternoon sun casts shadows across the smoothrocky walls, so smooth that a man could slide down without ripping his pants.
I always thought of beinge as a dull colour, a colour one wears when one gets old as skin and har colour fades and no one knows what suits best anymore, or beige to decorate your home when you want neutral tones, and can’t be bothred with colour. But I am wrong, for beige, buff, faun, whatever the coulor is called, I the colour of Yosemite, of Olmstead Point and beyond. And within that beige wonderland, is a myriad of colour, enhanced by the skylight-blue and dark felty-greens. Beige that turns yellow through to grey and brown, to streaky black with hints pf orange like dripping honey that punctuates the bleached moonscape surroundings. A colour like putty, the medium of the glazer’s knife, pressed tight against this window on the World.
A brass topographic model adorns the view-point, the peaks rubbed shiny by a million hands, leaving polished gold. For that it what it is, the peak of Half Dome, with its peaked visor-overhang at sunset IS polished gold.
The 3D model allows you the bird’s eye view, to imagine yourself above the wilderness, soearing high like an eagle, beady eyes looking down. How tiny we must be, standing aloft, gazing down the grey-lined valley, split and sculpted by glacial flow.
Fingers trace the Tioga Road on the sculpted brass, the wind snatches at voices, sounds carry on the wind, languages from all aroundthe world, all here at this melting pot of beauty. Tioga Road in polished brass.
“ You get a sense of distance, of perspective, just look at thos e hills, just look at it, just look at it….” An excited man exclaims, his wonder nd awe caught by others, an infection of the non-medical kind. The mountain wind, quite fierce, rips at the hair, people reach for jumpers and a scarf even though it is 28 degrees. Japanese
pose, Americans talk, Italians get in the way.  A know-it-all American points out to varying people where we are on the brass topograph again and again, to unsuspecting people, proud of his heritage and in a vicarious way, claiming it is a his.
Breath short, altitude over $8,000, the air thin. Hike seems laboured, any climb an effort. Engines roar, people come and go, car doors slam. RVs pull up, El Monte, CruiseAmercia, Appollo, RoadBear RV, all having a great time on their once in alifetime holiday.
The sun shifts, the pace quiets, mid-afternoon