In the introduction to their new book Wise Trees, published recently by Abrams, Diane Cook and Len Jenshel write that throughout their years working together, “we have found that we are repeatedly drawn to landscapes of complexity—where nature and humanity converge.” The book features examples where that convergence takes the form of a tree, making “a project about trees and their indelible bond with cultures.” Since 2012, they have photographed almost 60 trees around the world, each with an important history and meaning to the community that surrounds it.
Among the trees they photographed were The Emancipation Oak in Hampton, Virginia, under which Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was read in the South for the first time, and where formerly enslaved adults and children were educated. The Tanzlinde, a linden tree in Bavaria, Germany, is notable for the spiral staircase and dance platform incorporated into lower branches. The species has had an important, longstanding role in German culture and civic life “because it was believed that under a linden only the truth would be spoken,” making the trees a popular spot for judicial courts to convene. They photographed a Callery pear tree that grew in Liberty Plaza near the World Trade Centers and was badly damaged on September 11. Nursed back to health by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation employees, it was replanted at the memorial. “An early bloomer, it is the first tree at the memorial to blossom in spring and its leaves are the last to change colors in autumn,” they write.
In an essay in the book, Verlyn Klinkenborg considers the importance of trees as markers of personal history and connections to larger timelines. In their great size and long lifespans, he writes, “What trees do in their own quiet way is allow us to think about scale, and they do that better than anything but stars in the night sky.”