To Bough and To Bend
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,”
they say, “and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine.”
—"When I Am Among Trees" by Mary Oliver
The Bodhi Tree is said to be the site of Siddhārtha Gautama's awakening as the Buddha. The Tree of Life is found in both the beginning of the Jewish Tanakh and in the last book of the Christian Scriptures. Ancient Chinook prayers address God as the "Maker of Trees." As the novelist Richard Powers said, trees are rightly called "architecture of imagination." Their shade and branches have been sites of contemplation, suffering, and imagining our renewal.
Today, trees still speak: blunt stumps communicate deforestation and charred limbs speak of Los Angeles fires started by our own hands—or our negligence. New discoveries of communicating root systems speak to a tangled web of connections just below the surface of the visible world, just as LA's iconic—and imported—palms evoke a colonial past. In I, artists explore these ecological issues and look to both religious and historic art practices that help us listen to these old friends, so that we might relearn to "walk slowly and bow often" and find our way back into the living world we share.