I love trees and I will go out of my way to see and spend time near a magnificent one. I’m not a tree-hugger in the literal sense but I do feel relaxed, humbled, and at peace when I’m near big trees. I’m not unique and through the ages others have expressed admiration and have written about the feelings they experienced in the presence of trees too.
Even in religions trees have rooted themselves. The Jews and Christians read about the Tree of Knowledge in the Bible; for the Buddhists and Hindus there is the Sacred Fig or Ficus Religiosa. This is the tree under which Buddha sat when he became enlightened. In many folklores in south-east Asia the Banyan tree plays a big role.
While I was traveling around in the north of Thailand I could not help but notice some really impressive trees. Many of them with colourful fabric wrapped around them and often with a small shrine alongside. This is the way local Buddhist acknowledge and venerate the tree spirits, Nang Mai. In Thailand there is a Sacred Fig that is 30m high with a circumference of 3m, a Thai Phoa with a circumference of 20m, and another impressive tree in Thailand is a Thai Monkeypod, also called a Raintree, that does not soar high into the sky but it could give shade to a village. It’s branches cover an area of 2 416 square meters and it’s only about 100 years old. I think you get my drift. Thailand has trees that will inspire poets. But not local budding artists, it seems.
I saw a very impressive poster advertising an art exhibition at the Chiang Mai University’s art department. “The Sound of Big Trees”, two of my interest in one go: art and trees. I was very keen to see this art exhibition, first to see big trees and then to see how a younger generation interprets this interesting theme: “The Sound of Big Trees”. I took a taxi and was dropped at the art centre. They knew nothing of this exhibition but phoned around and directed me to another building. When I arrive at the Fine Arts Department this is the poster indicating I am at the right place and already I had a feeling this is not going to be what I was hoping for.
My sister has an expression she uses to in restaurants. When her food arrives she will (usually) look at it and say “Well, there’s the menu and then there’s the meal”, meaning what she saw on the menu and what they have just put down in front of her are two totally different things. That was my first thought when I walked towards the exhibition hall. To start the space or exhibition hall is not very big. I was there in the last week of the exhibition and all the flowers, in vases with dirty old water, that (I assume) were there to dress up the exhibition hall were all dead, dry and dropping petals and leaves on the floor. Nothing in there said “I exhale so that you, humans, can inhale health and life”. At this point I actually went outside again and asked some of the students if I was at the right place and being assured this was the “The Sound of Big Trees” exhibition I went back for another look. So the items on display that had information stickers next to them included about eight badly printed A-5 size photographs in strange blue shades and one in shades of grey. Then there were two constructions on the floor made with cardboard and saw dust, and at a stretch one could have looked like a tree. On one wall there were lots of ‘decorations’ using roses, all dead at this point. And I won’t bore you with the rest. So the menu and the meal. What an inspirational theme: The Sound of Big Trees. I think these students failed miserably. Even if a student did not interpret the theme correctly there was just no creativity and nothing to make me take a second glance. I really was very disappointed.
The British poet and artist, William Blake, said “The tree which moves some to tears of joy 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.” Back at my hotel I Googled “the sound of trees” and learned that scientists have found that trees do make sounds. Happy trees produce different sounds from drought stressed trees. According to National Geographic, researchers from the Grenoble University in France “is trying to pick out these cries for help amidst all the normal tree white noise in order to provide better, more targeted aid to trees suffering from drought”. A tree has white noise… wow… and young students could not find any creative inspiration.
Hear what the poet and novelist, Hermann Hesse, said, “Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”
P.S. In this blog I mentioned a tree that is only 100 years old. It’s a baby compared to some trees I have met in Taiwan. In my next blog I will share that experience with you