Sunday, February 21, 2010

Trees. Listening to Trees.

My Trees series is about dormancy, death and decay. 

On my walk this morning, my feet turn toward Dolan Pond, an eight-acre wetlands conservation area twenty minutes from my home. 

I've been listening to trees all this week, developing plans for the digital audio surround sound component of the gallery installation for my Trees project. 

What sounds do trees make? What sounds do trees hear? Some sounds that are made with trees are easy to hear, such as the percussive rat-a-tat-tat of woodpeckers.  

Other sounds require an impossible amount of work on the part of the listener - like the sounds that tree-boring worms make. How could I possibly record that? Very difficult, indeed.

How does a squirrel -- whom I see as an aboriginal population now co-dependent with us suburban humans -- discern which tree-reflected sounds are benign, and which signal danger? 

All week I've come back again and again to listen to a particular tree on Randlett Park, a nearby street -- because if one is very, very still, you can hear the sound of an electrical cable rubbing against it. It sounds mournful.

Along with my DSLR camera, I've brought my digital audio field recorder with me today. The results are breathtaking. More on that later....

I used to take my little girl here in warm weather to observe the ducks and marvel at the astonishing variety of flora and fauna. Coyotes, fishers, muskrats, green heron and other cool creatures dwell within. No, we never saw any of those beasts, but we have it on good authority that this small swamp is teeming with them.

For my purposes, coming to this four-pond wonderland in winter, when the ground is drier and easier to traverse, provides an excellent opportunity to get up close and personal with dormant, dead and decaying trees. Aah. Heaven.

BeSame (pronounced "BESS-a-may") is the spanish word for "kiss me." The v-shaped lovers in this image appear to be inclining their faces together for a smooch. I imagine that they perished this way, locked in amorous embrace to the end. And beyond.

PapiLlon catches my eye as I study the ground. These fungal growths look like butterflies that are only momentarily alighting on this rotting limb.

ShiProw immediately brings to mind the prow of a Viking ship. Can you see the ghostly oarsmen just outside the left of the frame?

After roaming the dried, frozen swamp for some time making photographic portraits, I take out the digital audio field recorder and set it up, donning my bulky studio headphones.  

I turn the microphone audio up to its highest level, since I am after the faint sounds of the trees. Holding my breath and trying not to move at all, I hit "record." 

My ears are immediately bathed in a sensuous swamp cacophony. Trees rubbing against each other. Dry leaves tumbling across the ground. Squirrel feet racing in the canopy above me. Distant snapping of twigs and branches as some beast (canine? lupine? feline? unicorn?) crashes through the cover. The steady drone of airplanes tens of thousands of feet above. 

Awesome. Freakin' awesome. I'll post excerpts from these recordings in the days to come.

PueBlo brings to mind the ancient Anaszi cliff dwellings of New Mexico. This downed trunk is no less an apartment building than those ancient housing developments. Rather than homo sapiens inhabitants, its tenants are of the six-legged variety. Do they pay their rent on time?

Finally: The winter swamp is redolent with faint scents. Scat, dirt, mud, leaves and many other odors become more apparent when you're sitting still. As I emerge from the swamp to a local street, the sharp, artificially sweetened reek of dryer sheets from a nearby house assaults my nose. Do we really require that much volume on an odor in order to feel clean? ###


  1. Roberto, who knew? Honestly, you do it all. Even blog well.

  2. Spoken by Elatia, who is...
    1. A fabulous writer
    2. A master chef
    3. A wonderful painter
    4. One heckuva conversationalist...
    5. Etc., etc.....