|Page 27||Book Reviews Non-Fiction||November 2009|
Life & Love of Trees
By Alidė Kohlhaas
To plant trees and watch them grow, either from saplings or seeds, is an emotionally gratifying experience. One expects them to take many decades to reach a few feet in height when some actually grow into giants within 10 years. If taken care of, they will live longer than the planter, which tells us how significant they are to our planet. Every day I look with amazement at my own trees that surround our home, and which I have planted, knowing they will still be here when I am long gone. Even more so, what amazes is how they have quickly attracted birds of every kind that did not live here before, or had vanished and to which they have now returned. It is an unexpected reward for an enjoyable effort.
Lewis Blackwell, who for many years led the photo agency, Getty Images, has produced some of the most critically acclaimed books connected with type and images. Concerned with environmental issues, he has been involved in many projects across the globe. The Life & Love of Trees is the natural outcome of his concerns. In it he celebrates and explores trees through breath-taking photographs from a variety of photographers and locations.
"If there is one thing this book is motivated by it is the imaginings and exploration of possibilities, rather than dwelling on purely factual observation," wrote Blackwell in the Introduction to the book. "For me, the tree is an idea, a way of interpreting the world, as well as a loose descriptive term for large single-stemmed plants."
To engage the reader and browser of this book, Blackwell has divided the book into two main sections: Life: How Trees Make Their World, and Love: How We Feel About Trees. Each section has several subsections which he introduces with essays that reveal his thoughts and those of others about trees. He has also added quotes from many sources that reveal how humankind looks upon trees.
William Blake [1757-1827] wrote this in a letter in 1799 to the Rev. Dr. John Trusler: "The tree which moves some to tears is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself."
Viewing the endless variety and unusual shapes of trees, one cannot help but agree with seeing nature as imagination itself. Not that I can tell this to a neighbor, who over the years has planted many trees so he can have the pleasure of cutting them down. They are merely a utilitarian thing to be used as firewood, and when they get too high, they stand in his way. Fortunately, there are far more people now who will agree with one obscure Irishman, Nelson Henderson, after settling in the United States, who is quoted by his same-named son in a memoir: "The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit."
Blackwell chose 92 images that reveal the beauty, variety and complexity of the tree world. Printed in a coffee table book measuring 12"x12", several of the images are spread across double pages to capture not only our imagination but also to reveal details smaller images might not show. I think of one double-sided image of the bald cypress, which only on closer inspection reveals orange flowers hidden among the ground foliage. This is one of those little pleasures that come unexpected to us not only in this book, but in nature if we take the time to engage in it. Nor would a quote from a love poem by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda [1904-73] have made as strong an impression if it accompanied a normal-sized page image of cherry blossoms not yet open: "I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees." While the words have their own strong impact, when combined with the image of tiny buds, they touch the very essence of what makes us human.