The Wonders in Wood

A tree along the shore in Auckland, New Zealand. Do you see the stag?

A tree along the shore in Auckland, New Zealand. Do you see the stag?

Today’s post involves that favourite pastime of fantasy artists–finding shapes in wood. The more interesting texture to the wood, the more shapes people tend to see within the fibers. I have seen my fair share of flat-out inspiring shapes. Take the above photo for example, which I took in 2008 when I was in New Zealand for World Youth Day. You can see what I thought resembles a stag turned into wood in the trunk of this enormous tree (the canopy of this particular species stretches very wide in either direction).

The above photo inspired me to write a narrative poem in the tradition of Ovid–imagine that Actaeon peeked at the nude Diana while she bathes, then the goddess in her anger transforms Actaeon into a stag, before taking pity on him just at the end by immortalizing him into wood so he can’t be eaten by his own dogs. If you can’t see the stag, maybe you can look below at the sketch I made which exaggerates my imaginative observation:

stag_tree

More recently than 2008–in fact it was 2013–I spotted a nymph who molded herself into a thin tree, embracing it as if trying to fuse her spirit into the plant. It mystified me. What it really was, was a kind of misshapen tumour growing on this young tree on Mount Royal in a small patch of trees close to the staircase near Pine Avenue. But I couldn’t resist the sense that if this strange growth on the tree wasn’t an imp, then it at least represented a beating heart. Unfortunately I did not have my camera at the time and when I returned in later months to take a snapshot, I could not find the tree again–that is, if it was still alive. This hand-drawn picture (coloured on Photoshop) will give a sense of what I saw, but also what I saw in it:

ligneous impjpgIt’s moments like this where you realize how old civilizations like the Celts and the Algonquins or Iroquois may have seen spirits in their natural world. Perhaps they saw strange things in nature that suggested this presence.

Lastly, perhaps the most traditional sighting of a spirit in wood is when a passing traveler notices an old oak and sees a man’s face in the leaves, or in the texture of the bark. This one even has a name: the Green Man. Here is a picture of him from Trafalgar Square, but you can see him anywhere, on most any stone decoration on an older building. And next to him I have attached a texture reference I took of an interesting tree on Mount Royal whose bark would no doubt serve as an extension to the Green Man’s beard. See more wood faces here.

GreenmanDSC06813.

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Photo Credits:

Green man: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trafalgar_Square_Green_Man_%28London,_England%29.jpg

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2 comments on “The Wonders in Wood

  1. calmgrove says:

    The late John Michell authored a book called Simulacra: Faces and Figures in Nature
    which had a rather mystical approach to humankind’s obsession with seeing faces and physical features in just about anything (here’s a recent take on this that I posted: http://wp.me/s36La9-waving).

    Like Hamlet bemusing Polonius you can see whatever you want in the changing nature of cloudscapes, Rorschach-like images in the sky. Myself, I wouldn’t be mystical about it but recognise the need for the human brain to search for meaningful patterns from sensory experiences.

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