The Secret Language of Trees

Last Updated on December 19, 2015 by Red Nomad OZ

Melaleuca Reflections
Melaleuca Reflections, Lake Ainsworth, Lennox Head

The creativity gene passed me by. So did most (all?) of the essential abilities and skills required for success at the Arts. And being described as ‘artisan’, ‘inventive’ or ‘patient’ is about as likely as me ever winning the Archibald Prize.

So back in the dark ages when I picked up my first (film) camera and peered through the viewfinder, I had an epiphany. I could actually see things through it I’d never noticed without it.

I’d found a portal into the secret world of … well, whatever I was looking at. Without it, the world was flat and ever-so-slightly dull. But through the lens, colours seemed brighter, patterns appeared, and details became endlessly fascinating.

Red Gum Cross Section
Red Gum Cross Section, Dunkeld, Victoria

And the magic of the minutiae came zinging down the lens like a coded message glimmering through the mirage that separates me from that other world.

Sometimes so close I can almost understand it.

Or at least attempt to catch it.

The urge to explore the language of that secret world – where nothing speaks more strongly than the trees – casts a spell so compelling I spend hours trying to capture it. And for one brief moment I can channel what it is to be a true artist.

And when the trees speak their secret language in the shimmering sunlit swirls of melaleuca reflections in a tannin-stained lake, time passes too quickly before the moment is gone forever.

Bark Paintings
Bark Paintings from Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland

The interior tells of times gone by too in the red rings of age, the cracks of weathering and a record of the blades that saw this monster fall.

And on the surface, the bark and its startling abstractions of texture, colour and pattern. Are any two the same? Who knew the native Australian Eucalypt is the only genus in the world with species representing all regions and habitats from sea level to the snow line?

Tree Canopy, Bendigo Botanic Gardens
Tree Canopy, Bendigo Botanic Gardens, Victoria

Above, a leafy canopy throws a filter over the sky, rendering the harsh sun bearable through its colours and patterns. And the tree’s secret language translates the play of light into a message of comfort and peace.

Para Wirra Reflections, South Australia
Para Wirra Reflections, South Australia

The trees, with their movement, their life and their magic, surround a wind-rippled pool and turn its darkened depths into a scene of such perfect abstraction I’d never have had the imagination or patience to paint.

Fallen Mallee, Swan Reach
Fallen Mallee, Swan Reach Conservation Park, South Australia

Limbs bleached by the sun and weathered by rain radiate from the trunk of a tree, hugging the earth where it fell. Am I the only one to see its dramatic design in this lifetime? Its remnants will still mark the land once I too am dust.

Aged Logs
Ageing Logs from Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales

No, age is no barrier to the language of trees. Weathered and worn, and now giving life to other living things as they sink into the oblivion of the Aussie bush, their colours now muted as they blend with the forest floor.

Strangler Fig, Cunninghams Gap, Queensland
Strangler Fig, Cunninghams Gap, Queensland

A strangler fig grows large as the tree it grasps grows weak in the brutal cycle of the natural world where each has a role in creating that dynamic collective of flora and fauna we call the rainforest.

Reflections on the River, Boonoo Boonoo National Park
Reflections on the River, Boonoo Boonoo National Park, NSW

And even where the trees don’t grow, they influence the landscape as their image flickers over forest streams, throws a backdrop for the birds and ripples round the river banks creating the glorious watercolours of the Aussie bush.

Tree Fallout
Tree Fallout: Leaves from Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens, Gum Caps from Pt Moorowie, Leaves from Lord Howe Island

Then the trees speak again in the random structures of their fallout. How would that bushland look without the attractive asymmetry of random trunks, the enigma of interwoven branches, the harmony in the patterns they create?

New Growth
New Gum Growth at Parkes War Memorial, New South Wales

A sensation of colour marks the entrance of spring.

And against that blue BLUE Aussie sky, the trees speak of growth, of survival, of life.

Kimberley Rose
Kimberley Rose, Top End

I may never fully decipher the secret language of the trees. But what I see through my lens is a glimpse of its meaning.

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  1. What a beautiful post – although I totally disagree that you coped out on the creativity gene. I love these photos, especially all the collages. I’ll never look at trees the same way again.

    1. Thank you so much, Nina! You’re WAY too kind – but I’ll take your compliment anyway!! I didn’t really see behind the same old, same old with the trees until I got my camera – so I’m glad it’s opened up a new world to you too!

  2. Are you kidding Red??
    You paint images with your camera just as well as a lauded artist paints the canvas with his brush!

    Picasso once said, “Every Child is [born] an Artist. The problem is staying an artist when you grow up”.

    Many elitists in the art world condemn anyone who don’t conform to their vision or taste. Sometimes, it’s a very narrow vision.
    Don’t let the opinion of any art snobs make you feel anything less than what you were born as… an artist.

    Should you exhibit examples of the stunning work which you bring to us here on your blog, you would gain much admiration from the viewing public and I’m sure, be highly awarded.

    You say, “my eye is nothing without the lens”. I don’t agree.
    Your eye IS a lens. The human eye and a camera have many similarities.

    The camera is a tool – just like a paintbrush.
    There are skills involved in using both.
    No matter how expensive the tool is, how it is used is what makes the difference between one who visualises the finished image – weaving a narrative around a picture – and someone who simply views and clicks.
    It’s a creative process.

    Everyone can take a photo. Point and shoot.
    But, an artist can make others see what they saw at that very inspirational moment of capture, long after the subject has disappeared, the “awesome location” has been left behind or that magical light has faded.

    That is Art.

    “My eye must surely be the most (maybe only?!?!) artistic part of me!!”
    Not true.
    The eyes and the brain collaborate – the brain computes what the eye sees in just 13 milliseconds.
    And, the brain is the hub of creativity…

    Sorry for the long ramble, but I don’t like to see someone with the talent that you have, be too self-effacing.
    You are an artist.
    A very humble one, but an artist nonetheless 🙂


    I have often sat beneath an ancient tree and listened to its calming susurrations as the wind played gently among its branches and leaves, and felt the ground pulse with vibrations from its network of roots far below.
    There is much beauty and wisdom and wonder in trees – as your stunning photos portray so well.

    Images of liquid gold and lavender rippled abstract are breath taking, among these most wondrous examples of wooded sentinels.
    You honour them well.

    1. Oh Vicki, as usual you are so kind! Being self-effacing is a habit that’s worked for me for a long time – so is the urge to refrain from bragging!! Maybe it’s time to break out of those learned responses and move forward. I HAVE come to terms with being a traveller who takes photographs – NOT a photographer who travels!! There’s a difference, as I found when I asked a ‘real’ photographer where his image was taken – and was surprised to have him respond ‘does it matter?’ Hell, yeah! To me, at least – and that defines one of the main attitudinal differences between me and ‘them’. I try to capture the sense of the place, not just take a perfect photo. Which is just as well 😀 Have a great week ahead, my friend!

  3. G’day Red,
    I’ve been missing a bit lately but wow, am I glad I called by today and it’s not often I’m a bit lost for words – but I got lost in the sheer beauty of the images my friend. And you well know that I enjoy your narrative as much as your images. I’m feeling quite contemplative since drinking in all that beauty.
    Yes Marion you are an artist and don’t you ever let the said artistic juices dry up. A truly beauty-full post.

    1. Thank you Rose! A little contemplation is a wonderful thing – and not just for you. It means my work is done!! As inspiration, our FAAAAABULOUS Aussie trees take a lot of beating – but they’ve also inspired me to look at other everyday objects differently! Stay tuned!!

  4. Fascinating and incredible photos! I love the collages of different coloured bark and foliage. You have presented the humble tree in a very creative and beautiful way. Maybe a new photo book on the horizon?

    1. The good thing about abstract photos is that it’s easier to hide your mistakes, Kathy! So maybe it’ll be my new forte?! Trees are so cool anyway – I’m glad I could show them in a different light.

  5. A fabulous post Red. The tree art has always fascinated me too. I did a post on bark art once . Your photos are superb and your writing engaging. How can you say you are no good at the arts. No doubt about it photography helps you see better.

    1. Thank you Diane! I guess the arts include writing and photography – I always think of them as painting and music! My eye has improved – but there are still some things I can only see through the lens!

  6. I see your camera speaks for you as mine does for me. I’m no artist by any stretch of the imagination, but when I got my first digital camera and discovered the Macro setting, wow!
    Trees of course, speak for themselves, with their beauty, living or dead and their reflections and shadows too.

    1. Maybe we should start up a ‘non-artist photography lover’ support group, River! I often feel like a fraud with my photos – most of the time I’m just capturing what’s in front of me! I just happen to be in awesome locations! Is that wrong??!!

  7. wow these are gorgeous! They would fit perfectly into a gallery or printed on a huge canvas on a huge wall. I particularly like the reflections images – but then I do love reflections! That Para Wirra reflection I could drown in.
    Wonderful photography Red. Trees are the most amazing things. An artist’s pallet of patterns and colours.

    1. Jill, thank you so much – this is high praise coming from you. I’m a sucker for reflections too – happily they’ve so far fitted into the ‘watercolours’ version of my abstracts, this one with trees – and will also fit a future one with rocks!! Thanks again – your praise means a lot to me!

    1. Thank you Andrew! It appals me to see the wanton clearing of scrub and bushland for development when with a little thought and planning some of it could be saved. And am I the only one who sees a connection between this and increased weather variations?

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