Essay No. 1

The Banyan trees of South Florida have exposed roots.  They barely cling to the sand-soil, their somehow too thin leafy tops all out of proportion with the colossal amount of structure necessary to make them stand up. Their circulation is complicated; their multi-trunked bodies like wrought iron sculpture gone hay-wire, or maybe the ruins of so much bent metal, rusting and melting back into itself.  Where do these things even start and stop?  It’s like they don’t trust the whole concept of being trees, keep grabbing hold of anything they can get their hands on, to stay up, to stay grounded.  They remember something; grow with a palpable sense of urgency; seek footholds.

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I love the vertical spaces, the postures, emerging and retreating forms, the fusion of root and branch in the Banyans.  They make me think of the anatomical study sheets of the Old Masters, who practiced every conceivable posture of the human body, before painting it.  Sometimes the study is art too.  If there ever was a living sculpture, it’s the Banyan.  When I see their smooth, but frantic, arm structure sprawling across the leaf litter, I can almost see it as time-lapse photography.  A sense of growth-motion is there.  There’s something under the bark, inside the skin.  That’s also true for the mangrove shoots that claim, pull-up by sheer force of will, land from the sea.  They climb themselves on top of the water; just keep growing layer upon layer, as if no one had ever told them that they weren’t on the land, that you can’t walk on water.

I was living in Miami in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew hit, leveling almost everything in its path, including Banyans measuring over a hundred feet in diameter.  They were completely blown over, thrown upside down.  More impressive than the storm’s destruction, however, was that many of these trees were salvaged, regenerated, limb-tangle wombs intact, by simply being propped back up.  A few years ago, I spent some time photographing the Hadza, a hunter-gatherer group living on the shores of Lake Eyasi, Tanzania.  They took me to one of their sacred sites, a Baobab tree so ancient, and giant, that it has lifted itself off the ground.  It just keeps reaching for the light.  The thing we would call a tree must start 30 feet off the ground, and what’s down on the earth, with us, is a chamber underneath - cool, eye-blinky dark when you first step-in, so quiet.  For hundreds of years all their babies have been born there.  They remember.

The weather on the barrier islands can be unpredictable...nature misbehaves from time to time.  Recently, I went out on the beach after a storm, and like the island’s hardscape, the seascape too had been turned inside out.  There was a box turtle, upside down; crab traps, almost unrecognizable after so much relentless churning, their stone crab prisoners too tired (stoic?) to bother escaping.  Nine-legged sea stars littered the shoreline.  They’re amazing creatures, capable, through regeneration, of surviving the loss of multiple limbs.  They can even regrow a new disc from a single arm, like there’s no distinction between the parts and the whole.  Displaced horse conchs, still tumbling in the surf, tried desperately to evade the wrath of hungry shorebirds.  There were thousands of them on the beach, like something out of Normandy.  “The eyes of the world are upon (us).”