September 06, 2008

About Those Trees

by Jerome du Bois

Since Randy Slack has never had any ideas, one cannot claim that he's out of them. He does adopt other people's ideas, though --the outdated ones. His "installation" at the @Central Gallery in the Burton Barr Central Library in downtown Phoenix, entitled "Paperless Society," consists of two things: on the walls, off-the-shelf supergraphics of trees in a forest, repeated several times, floor to ceiling; on a metal stand, a statement by Slack about global warming and suchlike crap, encouraging the viewer to, among other things, wonder how many trees went into the making of all the books in the library.

In other words, ignore the words. Ignore the work it takes to elaborate an idea, to compose coherent sentences about it, to write them down, to build a paragraph, to argue, to advocate, to surprise and entertain, to inspire anger or wonder or sorrow or soaring joy. To connect with another mind through written language. Forget about all that. Dismiss every one of the hundreds of thousands of books in the library, and all the sweat and tears and agony that went into bringing each one to birth between its covers. It's all about the trees.

Catherine and I love trees, especially big ones. On Thursday, August 29th, Phoenix experienced one of its most severe thunderstorms in over thirty years. That night we were hauled out of bed by the locomotive roar of the wind and the shotgunning rattling of hail --yes, hail-- in August!-- coming through the vents of our house. The electricity went off, then on, then off, then on again. I gave thanks for the repair crews who braved the lash of the weather for the sake of our comfort and safety.

The next morning I drove around for awhile, in and around our neighborhood and others, and saw how many big trees had been torn out by the roots and had fallen on streets and houses and power lines. Most of our favorites ones still stood. Next to my parents' house is a giant pine tree, double-trunked, about forty feet tall. Their neighbor, now long gone, planted it as a six-foot Christmas tree about thirty-five years ago. It was fine, tall as ever, its pine cones scattered over the street and driveways.

In the days following the storm, as I drove here and there, work crews were busy cutting and stacking the felled trees. Some of the trunks were three feet across, root balls twice as big. None of those trees were grown for paper, for books. They just stood and looked at God all day, gave us oxygen, and raised their arms in praise, or defiance, to the sky. The trees that are used for books are grown for books. We learned a long time ago the dangers of deforestation, and adjusted accordingly. You can read about it, in books.

There are no dead words, only dead minds.

Posted by Jerome at September 6, 2008 01:10 PM | TrackBack