Personal Projects: Rocks And Trees

Though trees are the natural world’s goliaths—the largest living things, the most resilient, the oldest—much of their magic plays out unseen. There is a very close relationship between trees and the soils they grow in. Soils consist of clay minerals, decaying plant and animal parts and rocks. Together they form a biogeographic system. No wonder, then, that amid all these elements, the role played by rocks has largely gone unheralded.  

Exposed big rocks create mini environments that are a perfect shelter for trees. They tend to protect seedlings from wind, absorb and hold heat better than does open ground, and preserve moisture in their shadows. Just as sand accumulates in river eddies, bits of plant and animal matter accumulate in the lee of the rocks and provide vital nutrients to seedlings setting down roots. Thus, seeds have a better chance of germinating and surviving their first vulnerable years if they fall on the leeward side of one of these exposed rocks.  

Deserts and landscapes dominated by rocky, sparse soil or slabs of stone also support trees. The seeds germinate in-between individual stones and in the cracks in the biggest stones. These cracks become larger and deeper with time due to freeze-thaw cycles and the incessant pressure of the developing roots buried within them.

Trees are sculpturally elegant. They are grounded. They transcend time. They are humbling. They are authentic. They are survivors. Trees, particularly in rocky environs, serve as examples to us for many positive human traits—perseverance, persistence, survival, tenacity, mettle. It’s easy to understand why they appeal to us so strongly. From bonsai to the wilderness we find the esthetic of trees in a rocky environment appealing.