When he was young, The Professor thought that trees were superior beings that had evolved far in advance of humankind. It was evident to him, even at a young age, that they lived individually, but also as a group, as part of a community. Each tree seemed to be simultaneously alike yet different—sometimes slightly, sometimes a lot—and each stand or grove of trees was subsequently unique. Looked at together, The Professor saw how they shared the sun, cohabitated amidst the soil, and drank together from the same water table. While there was evident competition—maximizing the number and arrangement of their leaves to achieve the highest quantity and best quality photosynthesis, for example—The Professor saw there was always evidence of cooperation in their overall form, in the way, for example, that they visually orchestrated the prevailing winds with their leaves, branches and trunks for the benefit of the overall group.
Even the simplest single tree seemed to be sentient. Each tree was a mystery, a puzzle to The Professor, something to be figured out that was deep, barely fathomable but clearly there. Perhaps each tree was an embodiment of the wisdom it contained. Perhaps each tree set itself up for winter by hibernating and slumbering into reticence. Perhaps each tree awoke come spring, found its metabolism on the uptick and, as the days lengthened and reached into summer, exuberantly embarked upon an extended orgiastic period, one that conceivably lasted hours, days, maybe even weeks as their buds sprouted, their blossoms bloomed, their trunk expanded, their roots dug deeper, and their leaves exploded into formation.
The Professor thought the most compelling aspect of a tree was its form, its shape, the way it looks as manifested in its proportions, combinations of texture and colors, deployments of positive and negative spaces, and, finally, in its pure, unadulterated beauty. That beauty comes to the tree through eons of evolution, through truly countless iterations of what a tree could or might look like. So, the stunning shapes The Professor saw and experienced came about as a self-assembling system would, built from the ground up [figuratively & literally] by their own genetic code.
But to anyone who has spent thousands of hours [like The Professor has] traipsing through the woods, it’s clear that a tree’s beauty also comes from its continuous, life-long relationship with everything that is around it; a tree’s interaction with the elements [meaning air, earth, sun, water] is a powerful form generator. As is a tree’s placement relative to its neighboring trees; the one effects the many, and the many effect the one. The Professor came to realize that what we have with a tree is an optimal manifestation: the best solution to the problem of what happens when powerful code [the tree’s genetic material, its DNA] is met head-on by powerful yet variable forces [in this case, the weather].
The organism that ensues, the one that we think we know of as a “tree,” is, to The Professor, a dynamic cluster of changing three-dimensional patterns. A true metapattern. A tree functions in such a way—according to a report in NewScientist* and as first observed by Leonardo da Vinci—that “at any height above the ground, the total cross section of some tree branches has roughly the same area as that of the trunk.” To anyone who seeks to express the poetic possibilities of form, shape and space—and by that I mean all artists, architects, craftspeople and designers—I would submit the tree for consideration, or better yet, for close observation, active contemplation and direct multi-level inspiration. Looking at it from the applied-creativity side, individuals, teams and departments would all do well to contemplate the lessons of the tree as a strategy to encourage individual excellence while at the same time celebrating group harmony, and that’s why they call me The Professor.
* NewScientist, 3 December 2011, “In brief” section [no byline], “Da Vinci pattern helps trees resist wind,” p. 22