Walking with Trees

“Walking with Trees,” is an on-going project of bearing witness to trees dying from the intertwined impacts of urbanization, globalization, in the form of invasive species, and climate change. As I repeatedly visit the same areas, staying present with devastating losses due to beetles, drought, fire, and more, my work has taken many forms. Photomontages combine a series of glimpses to express the brilliant vibrancy of life in both living and dying forests. Writing is informed by my background in art, science, and contemplative practice. The images and text became part of installations and performative lectures that offer public places to grieve, and from that opening of heart, to reimagine a new.

The Puffin grant supported my continued work near my home in San Diego, northward to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and Big Basin Redwoods State Park, and eastward to Santa Fe, New Mexico where I focused on the loss of pinyon pines to bark beetles and the impacts of recent fires.
In San Diego, I have been offering palliative care to oaks slowly dying from invasive oak borers for more than a decade. As I wrote last spring:
Witnessing the slow disintegration of these trees has been both heartbreaking and heart opening. This time of unraveling, this time when systems are on the verge of collapse, calls to attentiveness to decomposition as a vital part of the life cycle. Forest managers may call for the cutting of dead trees, to salvage some value from their timber before they seed large wildfires. But is this a blindness bred in a culture that only sees value in extraction and that wishes to avoid sitting with death?

In the Sierra Nevada mountains, I met many sequoias for the first time in 2019 and 2020, never imagining that they would be incinerated the following summers. After a subsequent visit I reflected:
The earth is calling us to look down. The seedlings at my feet were less than two inches tall. Sequoia seedlings only germinate after fire. To nurture the seedlings, we must nurture the earth, repair the life web. We must think like a sequoia seedling, think in tree time. Instead of using up arable soil in the next fifty years, we must commit to nurturing the soil for the next thousand years.
My walks always begin with an offering of gratitude. As I walk or sit with trees, I open to uncertainty, staying present to whatever feelings, thoughts and perceptions arise, and attentive to whatever insight or calls to action emerge.