Time spent at the site oscillates between contemplative, observational, and social modes. I make every effort to visit the site at least once per week, and frequently spend time there shooting video, writing, observing, doing contemplative/meditation exercises, and documenting observations. Sometimes I do nothing at all for significant stretches of time, and just try to simply be in the forest and with the tree. Kate visits the site regularly too, and has created a thorough botanical survey of the area. We have installed a wildlife camera at the site and we regularly document visits by wildlife, as well as observing them in person when we can. The pictures below give a sense for some of our activities and observations at the site. It is hard to capture the meaning and richness that the site has taken on for us over these last three years. The tree and the visits to the site have been great teachers.

video stills: To Understand a Tree (Time)
2020
video

This video was shot on site weekly at the same time of day, for a period of one year. The frame is focused on the Red oak tree which is at the center of To Understand a Tree, and shows much of the surrounding forest, including a vernal pool in the background. It emerges from contemplation of the subjective experience of time, and the essential unknowability of a tree from a human perspective. The video was shot from Summer 2019 - Summer 2020. I shot at the same time of day in one-week increments, and each clip in the final video highlights the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) changes in the forest from week to week. 

Our subject, the Red oak, estimated to be 75-100 years old, measured at 85 feet tall and 24" diameter at 4. Pictured here in summer 2019.


The site itself is a typical patch of second-growth New England forest, and includes red oak, white pine, hemlock, black cherry, american beech, red maple, yellow, grey, black and white birches, white ash, striped maple, and a number of other trees, in addition to a rich diversity of understory plants and shrubs. Naturalist Kate Wellspring has been creating a botanical survey of the site starting in Summer 2019.

The tree at the height of autumn color, 2019.

a clear day in winter

The vernal pool about twenty feet from the tree supports a diversity of wildlife and plants, fungi, and mosses.

A northern waterthrush at the vernal pool, June 2019

a White-tailed deer fawn browsing for something to eat on the surface of the dried-out vernal pool (wildlife camera photo)

the process of mapping the site for the botanical survey

naturally seeded oak seedlings at the foot of the oak tree, photo by Kate Wellspring

Kate counting seedlings from the acorns produced by the oak every Fall

birding at the site provides a regular excuse to avoid worldly responsibilities

a crude mapping process provided a way to begin understanding our chosen site

an eighteen-foot tree stand we erected in a nearby white pine, so we can better see into the forest canopy

a break in the forest canopy, photo by Kate Wellspring

oaks handle cold feet well enough

nicknamed the "hotel tree" (aka "air-b-n-tree"), this diseased and dying white pine on the site has been extensively mined by pileated woodpeckers, and frequently each cavity hosts a different invertebrate "guest." occasionally mice also use the cavities, and these provide an attraction for owls. no trip to the site is complete without a visit to the hotel tree.

hotel tree, standard non-smoking accommodations. Amaurobius ferox, or black lace-weaver spider. photo by Kate Wellspring.

a flying squirrel on the "hotel tree" (wildlife camera photo)

a black bear on the site near the "hotel tree" (wildlife camera photo)

Uvularia sessifolia, or "wild oats," a native Spring wildflower. Photo by Kate Wellspring.

Cypripedium acaule, or pink lady slipper, a native wildflower, photo by Kate Wellspring

Polygaloides paucifolia, or gaywings, a native wildflower which conveniently blooms during Pride month, photo by Kate Wellspring

a red eft at the site, juvenile stage of the Eastern newt

Ganoderma curtisii, a wood decaying fungus. photo by Kate Wellspring

ghost pipe is a non-photosynthetic plant. It gets its nutrients from the mycelial fungal network, fed by the photosynthesis of nearby trees. a tangible reminder of the interconnectedness of forest organisms.

Acronicta radcliffei larva, aka Radcliffe's dagger moth, photo by Kate Wellspring

Osmundastrum cinnamomeum, or Cinnamon fern, first appearing in the Spring. Photo by Kate Wellspring.

ferns and moss growing on a decaying log at the site. life and death cycle into one another in the forest. photo by Kate Wellspring.

Kate propagated several acorns from the tree we are studying, overwintered the seedlings for 1-2 seasons, and in the Fall of 2021, we were able to plant six offspring from the tree in good locations around the field station.

getting tree seedlings in the ground is very satisfying, and provides a reason to feel hopeful despite all the challenges these small plants will face. good luck, little ones!