images for the office: trees and waterfalls

When I moved into the new/other/annex office, one of the first things I did was plan for my own decor. I don’t have particularly styled taste, but the generic watercolors and dried flowers that came with the office as standard motif didn’t really inspire me. Instead, I found a collection of frames with mats that would fit a series of 8×10 photos. One shows a high mountain flower about to seed in macro focus that I took a couple of years ago. To its left is a black and white photo of my girls. And on the far side is a photo of me as I start to head down into a glacial basin, full pack on my back. These are the images that I thought should replace everything that the office came prefurnished with.

There was one other wall hanging that I began to remove to replace, but then I looked at it again more closely. Inside a pseudo-worn wood frame is a sepia toned photo. At first glance, the image is just of an old tree, wide at the base and unwieldy in its thick branches that flood the frame. Right up against the trunk of the tree is a small wood shack, and it’s apparent upon closer inspection that the trunk and roots of the tree are beginning to uproot the structure.


For me, this is a warning. Surely, someone built the shack; and surely someone built it next to, but not on top of, a tree. “What a nice place to build my camp,” I can imagine thinking. “Right here in the shade of this young tree . . . ” Having a 70 year old maple tree in my backyard and being astounded with its girth (even viewable from the sky via Google Earth), I can see how surprising the growth of a tree could be. At my parents’ home, the place where I grew up, we often point to the Douglas Fir that Dad almost cut for our Christmas Tree when I was five. It’s now standing about 50 feet tall, but I can easily recall thinking that putting the small evergreen in our home was a good idea.

I’ve left the image up for a few reasons, the first of which is the fact that I like it well enough. It’s better than an arrangement of dried flowers. More importantly, it hangs on a wall as a reminder that we can’t ignore the trees when we build our quaint little shacks. Some things, like trees, are not only going to outlive us, but they are going to outgrow us. Some things are too organic and too enduring to ignore, and you don’t know which things they’ll be until they have completely changed everything underfoot — even under foundations — and overhead.

On the opposite wall is a copy of a poem given to me this fall:

As though
the river were
a floor, we position
our table and chairs
upon it, eat, and
have conversation.
As it moves along,
we notice — as
calmly as though
dining room paintings
were being replaced —
the changing scenes
along the shore. We
do know, we do
know this is the
Niagara River, but
it is hard to remember
what that means.

(The Niagara River, Kay Ryan)

Sometimes when we aren’t paying attention, change comes in the form and at the rate of tree growth, or of a river flowing. And sometimes it will come more abruptly.

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