Written by Trees (Series)

Written by Trees is a series of poetry and literature written by oak trees. The first project, "Novel by an oak tree" began in June 2012 at the Oxbow School of Arts, during a two week course, "Plein Air Programming," taught by Seibren Versteeg.

The first week was spent immersed in observation of a single location. I was drawn to a slight clearing in the forest near the top of a hill. A tall oak grew in the middle of the clearing, its upper branches forming the height of the canopy. I passed much of each day with my back against the tree, drawing and considering both the surroundings, and the oak tree itself.

During this time I was reminded of Virginia Woolf's novel, Orlando, which features an oak tree as a prominent character. Symbolic of nature and the unchanging landscape, the oak tree continually supports Orlando throughout the several centuries of her life. "The Oak Tree" was also the name of Orlando's lifelong manuscript. Sometimes poetry, sometimes prose, in the end the work was offered to the living oak tree by Orlando.

After spending a week with this oak tree, I wanted to give it the means of storytelling. I did not want to create a story for the tree, but rather, reveal the oak tree's own voice. To establish a common language, I read aloud the entirety of Virginia Woolf's Orlando to the tree. With my back against the tree, my voice vibrated against the tree, delivering the text as an attempt to establish communication. The text of Orlando became a Rosetta Stone of sorts for our conversation.

During the reading, I found myself slowly beginning to imagine a more phytocentric perspective. Remaining in the same position over the course of nine hours, I began to perceive the subtle changes in the surroundings: shifting patterns of light, movements of animals and insects, subtle shifts in sound from afternoon to evening to late night. With my back against the tree, not only did I feel the vibrations of my own voice, but I began to notice the faint motions of the tree as it adjusted to the winds from high in the canopy.

In the early morning following the reading, I again sat with the tree, this time only listening as the tree told the story. Vibrations from the tree were again recorded, this time translated into words using the text of Orlando as a translation key. Presented here is the text of that story in the form of a novel, with only a few formatting edits on my part.

The piece was presented in Impossible Conversations at the Leroy Neiman SUGS Gallery. On October 4th, I read the entirety of 'seductiveness the which issued by the whole person' to a young oak in the gallery. The reading lasted approximately 6 1/2 hours. I repeated a similar process of measuring vibrations, ultimately generating a new text by the young oak, entitled "upon writing grass."

Read the full text of the oak tree's novel.

Performance with oak tree, Virginia Woolf's 'Orlando,' arduino, piezo sensor
12 hours
Short Version Documentation: Novel by an Oak Tree
Long Version Docmentation: Novel by an Oak Tree - Gallery Reading to a Younger Oak Tree
Time-Lapse Video of "Novel by an Oak Tree" Performance

See press about Novel by an Oak Tree.