From Self-Portrait with Dogwood by Christopher Merrill:
“A small deciduous tree, the flowering dogwood belongs to the understory in a hardwood forest, occupying the middle space between the ground and sky, providing nectar for pollinating insects, branches and foliage and fruit for perching and nesting songbirds, nutrients for the soil, ingredients for medicines, wood for bowls and shuttles and tools, and an open invitation for an aging man to reflect on his walk in the sun, to reconsider his relationship to nature, to pay attention to the worlds revolving in his memory, his imagination, and all around him.”
This is the third post in a series featuring photos of dogwood blooms that I took a few weeks ago. The first two posts are:
Dogwoods, Red and White (1 of 3)
Dogwoods, Red and White (2 of 3)
For this post, I “rearranged” bracts and blooms in some of the images, then painted the backgrounds black — because that’s what I like to do!
I just bought Self-Portrait with Dogwood by Christopher Merrill (quoted above) last week. It’s now part of my collection of books about specific types of plants or flowers (see Bearded Irises in Purple and Blue (1 of 2)), and is a series of essays where the author explores the connections between his life and nature, as he researches the history and lifespan of dogwood trees.
His description of dogwoods as “understory in a hardwood forest, occupying the middle space between the ground and sky” caught my eye. It may be a literary flourish; but, also, it’s a fitting characterization of the way natural spaces develop (or redevelop) in layers, in a kind of hierarchy of shorter then taller and taller plants, with each layer serving its purpose in the creation of a woodland, forest, or even garden, as lower layers sometimes (and eventually) get supplanted. Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels is an excellent introduction to interpreting the history of such natural spaces, and — if the subject interests you — I definitely recommend it.
From the book — which focuses on New England in the United States as the author’s source for instruction — you can learn how to observe a natural space and understand decades of its development, based on the appearance of trees and tree trunks, layers of plant growth, the impact of past fires or storms (called “disturbance histories”), and man-made events and structures such as dividing land into pastures by plowing and creating boundaries with the upturned stones. You will also read about tiny plants called “basal rosettes” that are evidence of new beginnings for a wild area; how a tree develops a split or “coppiced” trunk; the meaning of “deadfall” and how broken trees will push up “stump sprouts” because they’re not as dead as they look; and what “pillows and cradles” mean in the appearance of landscapes. These are just a few of the delights contained in its 200 pages, which will teach you to see every natural space with brand new eyes.
(If you would like to view some photographs I took at the time I first read Wessels’ book, photos I took with what I’d learned from the book in mind, see Before and After: Fun with Big Rocks and Before and After: Swamp Things.)
Thanks for reading and taking a look!