Following her 2014 book Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time, Beth Moon came across studies linking the growth of trees with cosmic radiation and the movement of the moon and the planets. “The oak, for example, appears to be linked with Mars, the beech with Saturn, and the birch with Venus,” she writes in the essay that accompanies her new book, Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees, published this month by Abbeville Press. While trees get most of their energy from the sun, the thinking in the papers was that their dependence on energy from more distant sources is not well understood.
The discovery led Moon to start thinking about the relationship between trees and stars, the subjects of her new book. In delicately colored long-exposure images, old-growth trees frame skies that are bright with stars. From South Africa to California, Moon recorded baobabs, quiver trees, bristlecone pines, Joshua trees, sequoias and oaks, lit by the Milky Way and constellations in the Southern and Northern hemispheres. In many cases, the trees’ distance from light pollution caused by cities and towns is also what preserved them—the same isolation that now makes it possible to see the stars above them is also what protected them from human interference during their long lives.
As astronomer Jana Grcevich writes in an essay in the book, visible light from the most distant stars takes about a thousand years to reach the earth, the same length of time that many of Moon’s trees have been growing. Moon’s photographs, says Grcevich, “give us a connection between Earth and its larger context, between ourselves and our place in the universe.”