Nearby where I live is Redwood Park. Above the Hazelmere Valley, these originally clear-cut 80 acres were owned by deaf twins, David and Peter Brown. Around 1893, when they were in their early 20s, the brothers started planting and caring for small trees collected as seeds and seedlings by mail from places like Russia, Austria, Japan, France, Italy and California. As the trees grew, the reclusive and eccentric brothers built and lived in a two-story treehouse. Here, in 1958, they died, leaving this property to the municipality.
Today the park is a mature forest — a stately cathedral with winding pathways, occasional sunny meadows and secret painterly hideaways. To set up here is to feel the brothers’ dedication to peaceful isolation and the miracle of growth.
All of us have the opportunity to leave our world with some sort of monument. Some among us have the compulsion more than others. Down deep, many artists have the idea that the objects we produce will be our legacy. Our life in art is like the growth of a forest — small seeds nurtured until their presence is inescapable. We, too, use the power of nature to build our unique monuments.
With dissemination and distribution our life-work in art is divided and travels to many lands. Unlike a forest that can be taken down with a single careless match, ours is of many parts — some, at least, which may stay out of harm’s way.
We owe it to ourselves to manage the quality of our craft. We need to take care of permanence and give heed to the integrity of our designs and the lasting freshness of our colours. “Never stop working on your statue until the divine glory of virtue shines out on you, until you see self-mastery enthroned upon its holy seat,” says Plotinus in “The Enneads.” It’s a given that our art might just be around for a long time. “Ars longa, vita brevis est.” (Hippocrates) “Art is long, life is short.”
The brothers, great readers that they were in their silent worlds, knew the value of ancient things. “The emanation from old trees changes and renews the spirit.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)
PS: “Along the way trees are planted which are not expected to bear fruit in one’s lifetime.” (The Dreamway, 231)
Esoterica: Incense, Lebanon, and Blue Atlas Cedars and many other evergreens have done well here. Elms, chestnuts and maples are doing okay. Of the 32 species the brothers planted, the California redwoods, Sequoia gigantea, have truly thrived. Is this the world’s longest living thing? Is this one of our largest? These sequoias I now sit under are truly large, but they are perhaps not as large as they are going to be.
Crafting a healing retreat
by Gordon Soaring Hawk, Hildale, UT, USA
Not everyone is gifted with the ability to create masterful works with the brush; in fact, many times I have felt like Amadeus’ Salieri in being condemned to have sufficient talent only to recognize the talents of others. Even so, to craft something that may extend beyond the scope of one’s lifetime is a worthy endeavor. That is what my darling friend and I happen to be doing on the acreage we live upon, here in the desert of the Arizona Strip — we are crafting a place of healing retreat: meditative nooks, places to camp, edible landscapes and a pervasive sense of peace.
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Spiritual endeavor for a lucky people
by Gwen Fox, Colorado Springs, CO, USA
Thanks to those who have come before us we have many wonderful things to enjoy. Our art when produced with care and thought is not only a lasting endeavor but also a spiritual one that sends our energy out into the universe long after we are gone. As a teacher and artist I always think about how I can instill in my students the beauty and joy of sharing their soul. Painting isn’t just putting down paint in a preconceived manner with perfect technique it is the going within and sharing that deep part of you that makes you whole. It is easy to learn technique and design but when we open up ourselves and allow the world to see our emotion we deepen the experience for everyone. We as artists are the luckiest people in the world.
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Mixed feelings about legacy
by Wes Giesbrecht, Mission, BC, Canada
I read in a science newsletter awhile ago that some spruce trees in Sweden have been found to be close to 10,000 years old.
I’ve turned a lot of trees into my artwork over the years. There’s a legacy of somewhere in the vicinity of a thousand of my wall hangings spread around the planet. Some are smaller but a lot of them are in the neighbourhood of 16 to 24 square feet or more. That’s a lot of expensive sawdust. I rarely ever used dyes or stains preferring to rely on the natural colours of the woods. Since 2008 sales, and hence production, have gone way down but I get emails now and then from people who saw them as much as 10 years ago and have finally decided to have a custom piece made. The tiles are fastened to a cloth backer so the work can be rolled up for shipping. This one is called The First Time. It’s 46 x 94 inches — that’s 4,342 one-inch tiles, made form wenge (black) bloodwood, purple heart, aspen (white) and figured maple.
I have mixed feelings about my legacy. The wall hangings are by no means as beautiful as the trees they were made from, so what’s my excuse?
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A forgotten gem
by Anne Weiler-Brown, Zion Canyon, Utah, USA
Years ago I lived in Bamfield on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island. When we came to “the city,” we would stay in the Fraser area as a middle ground between the remoteness of Bamfield and the craziness of Vancouver. On one of these trips we found the Redwood Park. Until I read your letter this morning, I truly had forgotten this little gem. Thank you for bringing back a fond hike to my memory. Now that I live in the lovely high desert outside Zion National Park in southern Utah, what a sweet thought to remember those gorgeous trees!
The joy of taking care
by Lucille Chamberlin, Pleasant View, Utah, USA
As a lover of trees and growing things, I really enjoyed this story. We have planted many trees, shrubs and flowers in our own yard. I have heard people say…”I want a yard that I won’t have to do anything to.” I laugh… if it’s growing it has to be taken care of and what a joy in life they are missing out on. Painting nature is always a challenge as we can’t compete with the Master… but it can be our own little world.
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A sacred experience
by John Mix, Madison, WI, USA
Any time spent among trees is well spent. My best days are those with paint in hand. The oldest living things on the planet as far as I know are upwards of 4,000 years old: the bristlecone pines. Thankfully no one is telling where the oldest ones are, although I could keep a secret in order to protect them from some crazed hahnyacker. I’ll never forget my pilgrimage to the ones in Great Basin National Park in Nevada. Nested on Mt. Wheeler there are bronze plaques on the ground that tell their age, some 3,300 years old. Merely some 30 ft high, their wizened, twisted trunks have been polished smooth by the dry sandy winds. Born long before the Caesars, they’ve seen and heard it all and still stand as living monuments to nature’s infinite wisdom. A sacred experience I’ll never forget!
The joy of hugging trees
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA
My name is also Peter Brown. I would never claim to own a tree, but for forty years I have been paying the property taxes for the privilege of living under a number of remarkable trees. Two Coastal Live Oaks which are close to 500 years old, and a number of Coast Redwoods, Sequoia sempi verens, which were planted in 1910. I am a tree hugger. My home, the place I am sitting at this moment, was built in 1882. I live in the middle of a huge metropolis of 7.5 million people. I have chickens, and doves. I am humbly, fortunate. The redwood siding on my home is worth more than this whole place, as a property. I am not deaf. I do paint. And, I am very serious about art.
I am more serious about saving this urban forest. All forests. My wife and I bought 34 acres up in British Columbia just to save that forest place. We love that place. I love making paintings. But, saving a hillside forest in British Columbia? That was an amazing thing to do. My heart is in two places. My best advice about painting a tree is to be one mile away. We need no tree portraits. We need trees. I am glad to share my name with another tree hugger lover. That puts sense to my own life, in some way. Besides that, I have two grandsons, growing up under these trees. I showed them how to hug trees. It feels good.
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The lust to create
by Pranay Mishra, Gurgaon, India
I used to be a painter who got convinced by the caring parents that there is not much comfort in being a painter, surely not in India. The last time I painted something was three years back; nowadays I just crunch numbers. But I have got this habit of compulsively collecting images that appeal to my sense of aesthetics. If I see some good paintings or photographs online, I just copy on my computer. If I travel, I keep taking snaps after snaps every other moment; may be, I have some ravenous lust to horde all that beauty or a latent wish so build a memory backup someday to paint again all the way to my grave.
I have recently started a blog where I write some Haiku-like poems and some other stuff; I am not sure if the stuff there is any good but I am doing to satisfy my need to create something and save my sanity.
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In praise of trees
by David Lehmann, Menlo Park, CA, USA
Robert, I really enjoyed your comments about the trees. I live in California, where both the Sequoias and coastal redwoods are native. In fact I have 3 coastal redwoods squeezed in a back corner of our lot. Probably planted about 1941, they are only 5 to 6′ in diameter, and perhaps 130′ feet tall. One is pushing on the corner of our garage. Whoever planted them underestimated their vigor. We also have a deck I made of some salvaged 2″ x 12″ and 2″ x 14″ redwood boards. The wood is probably several hundred, and perhaps a thousand or more years old.
Sequoias get more girth, Coastal gets taller. Wikipedia sez:
The family is notable for including the largest, tallest, and stoutest individual trees in the world, and also the second longest lived species in the world:
Largest – Giant Sequoia, 1486.9 m³ trunk volume
Tallest – Coast Redwood, 115.55 m tall
In the California parks where they have redwoods, it’s common to have a display of a cross-section of some huge tree, showing the rings. There are markers “Columbus sails to the new world” “The Magna Carta signed” “Birth of Christ” etc. on down to the heart, the center of the tree.
I just got home from a trip in the Sierras, and hiked among some very old fir & pines. I agree with your quotation about “The emanation from old trees” They get rough, irregular, gnarly, lightning blazed, as they get really old — the wise ones, the persistent, the saints of the forest. When I walk past one, I touch the bark, and say, “You have been here all my life, and well before, and may be long after” in thanks and praise.
Featured Workshop: Laurie and Blair Pessemier
Solitary Fishing boat
oil painting 16 x 20 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Cynthia Folster Feth who wrote, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” — Greek proverb
And also ThreeRivers Arts who wrote, “The longest living tree is the Bristlecone Pine. The Giant Sequoias are the largest trees and the Coastal Redwoods are the tallest trees.”
And also Aldo John who sent this quote, “I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.” (Joyce Kilmer)
Enjoy the past comments below for Monument…