Friday, January 21, 2011

Ever Green

by Drew Martin

Trees are multi-media wonders. They sense the seasons and thereby cause reactions in humans who look to them for signs of life and death in their colors, flowers, fruits and leaves. The rings of a cut stump work as a concentric calendar and are displayed in museums to mark history and have been used in numerous productions such as Roots and The End of August at the the Hotel Ozone to visualize the passage of time. Trees also tell us a lot about our environment and can be analyzed for levels of radiation and substances they have absorbed. In a much more practical and direct tie to media, 90% of paper pulp comes from trees: trees are media.

Trees are loaded with connotations that send us around the world. In my mind, palm trees place me in California or Florida; just as baobab trees send me to Africa. I used to like walking through the groves of eucalyptus trees in Santa Barbara, which were imported from Australia to replace the indigenous oaks that the whalers cut down to boil whale fat and heat the blobs of oil found on the beaches there, to tar their ships. So while eucalyptus trees remind me of California, they also create a sense for me of what part of Australia must look and smell like, since I have never been there.

Likewise, the bamboo plant transports me far away. It conjures images of happy pandas munching away in China. I was born during the Vietnam War so bamboo also brings to mind the war itself because of photographs I grew up with as well as all the movies staged in groves.

While looking for pictures of "war time" bamboo, I found the two images taken during the war and one referencing the dense vegetation, from a blog devoted to restaging the day-to-day activities/missions of 20th Century wars using G.I. Joe dolls.

Most people would not associate suburban New Jersey with bamboo but the plant thrives there and many other parts of America, and is quite common despite its foreign and exotic association.

I have not researched how bamboo made its way to America but I assume it was simply imported for landscaping purposes or as a curiosity. Despite its unnatural start, it's here to stay and is part of my own life/daily routine. Every morning I run to one of several groves in my and neighboring towns. I break off a small cluster of branches and bring it home for my kid's guinea pigs, who are delighted to chew on the fresh leaves.

Typically, I take my clippings from the sagging perimeter of a grove but in some of the spots I have to walk into the grove, which is other-worldy because of the green lighting, breezy rustle of the leaves, dull-clanking of the stalks and the huge bamboo spiders that suspend themselves at face-height during the warmer months.

Pictured left, is a bunch I got on a recent run. I photographed it in the snow.