Our Giving Trees: Appreciating Wood for Warmth and Beauty


giving tree

An image from The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, a story in which a tree loves a boy so much that she gives everything to him, her shade, her apples, and, eventually, her entire body to sell so that he might be happy. At the end of the story, the boy comes back an old man, and sits on his tree’s stump. They are ancient and broken, but they are together, “and the tree was happy.”

I’m on a walk with my friend Kate in the forest. It’s the College Woods out behind William & Mary, where we go to school. It’s misty and some water begins to condense and form little droplets on my brow. Kate’s clad fully in denim with a painted-on sweatshirt underneath. We jump across the access logs placed in the low-lying swampy bits of the trail that it always takes me minutes to traverse alone. Kate’s confidence is palpable, and it makes me feel better. We don’t know each other all that well, but I feel close to them out under the trees in the little bits of rain spitting down from the grey sky now occluded by one-thousand branches.

When we arrive at an outcrop just below the Keck Lab, William & Mary’s hub for environmental sciences nestled on the edge of campus, Kate discovers something up ahead and suddenly becomes quite giddy. They’re generally very even-keel, so I was interested in the kind of cute forest creature, lost ruin, and/or resplendent gemstone that could have caused such a reaction. When I catch up to Kate, they are staring at a pile of light-colored wood, the remnants of a tree that had been cut up into pieces and dumped down a hill, eventually coming to rest in a ravine right off of the walking trail. Kate senses my surprise at seeing their discovery, punctuating their chuckle with the words: “Sorry, it’s just that, I love wood. Man, I have to get my car and come back here. I’ve got all of these tools for making wood prints and so many sketches and paintings that I want to get down on these stumps.”

Appreciating Trees for Art, Warmth and Beauty

They exhale. With one short paragraph of conversation, I’ve been schooled anew in the art of appreciating trees and their warm, beautiful bodies. Wood is a resource that is perpetually undervalued in western society, on account of what I believe to be a tragic disconnection with the material’s ever palpable and tactile nature. In the suburban U.S., the closest that most kids get to wood comes in the form of paper and self-lighting fireplaces. Unless you live up north, you don’t see too many wood stoves for heating these days, and the idea of using wood for art – be it sculpture or prints, like Kate enjoys – is something that only the artsiest of folks might consider.

Coincidentally, Kate does hail from far up north, Connecticut to be exact, and in their next sentence they tell me about their routine over winter break: “I’d get up, put the coffee on, and light the rest of the fire we had from the night before, before heading out to the shed to get more fuel.” It was poignant, I thought, that wood for Kate was both a medium through which they could express their artistic passion and a source of heat that they and their mom relied on to get through the cold New England winter. For the first time in my mind, it made sense that the same fuel that we’ve relied on for survival throughout human history, could be made into works of art that take us back to our roots.

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