Unreal Nature

October 12, 2019

Any Particular Tree

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:08 am

… it forces us to cast aside the illusion to which people in high places are prone that the world we inhabit is spread out like a mosaic beneath our feet …

This is from Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture by Tim Ingold (2013):

… Of someone who is so caught up in the minutiae of life that they are unable to comprehend the overall picture, it is often said that they cannot tell the wood for the trees. To see the wood, it seems, you have to get out from among the trees and take a long view from a bare hilltop, or even from the air. Seen thus from afar, the wood appears to be laid like a mosaic over the contoured surface of the land.

[line break added] This is how the woods appeared to us from the summit of Mither Tap. But suppose that you rejoin us now as we descend from the heights and re-enter the wood. Are we once again overwhelmed by minutiae? Do we see only individual trees rather than the wood as a whole? Not a bit of it! To enter the wood and to find ourselves surrounded on all sides by trunks and branches is not just to undergo a change in focus, from distant to close-up, but to experience a radically different perception of the world.

[line break added] In this perception, the wood ceases to appear as an aggregate of individual trees. Perhaps the Oxford English Dictionary gets closer to the mark when it defines the wood as ‘trees collectively growing together.’ In the twisting, turning, gnarling, knotting and branching of its roots, trunk and limbs, each tree bears testimony to a process of growth that is continually responsive to that if its neighbors, as well as to rainfall, wind and light and the passage of the seasons.

[line break added] To perceive the wood from within is to become immersed in these ongoing entanglements of life. It is to see every tree not as a discrete bounded individual but as something more like a bundle of fibrous threads, tightly wound along the trunk but splaying out above ground in the canopy and below in the roots. And it is to see the wood no longer as a mosaic of individual pieces but as a labyrinth of thread lines.

So entangled are these lines that it is scarcely possible to say with any certainty where any particular tree ends and the rest of the world begins.

… It is paradoxically in the depths of the woods that the world opens up most fully to our perception, for it forces us to cast aside the illusion to which people in high places are prone that the world we inhabit is spread out like a mosaic beneath our feet, with its forms and patterns already impressed upon the physical substrate of nature.

… Though we may occupy a world of objects, to the occupant the contents of the world appear already locked into their final forms as though they had turned their backs on us. To inhabit the world, by contrast, is to join in the processes of formation.

My most recent previous post from Ingold’s book is here.




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