6 September 2008, 13:30.
Between Karl-Marx-Allee 103 and the entrance to U-Bahnhof Weberwiese.
I wrote earlier that I had looked at this big group of trees in front of my house and marvelled that they were all wearing identifiation tags, but there wasn’t enough light that day to get any good pictures of the inner trees in the bunch. Here are some new pictures.
The space inside a large cluster of urban trees often seems to me to have a very particular atmosphere of secret hideway, refuge, imaginary world. I feel like a kid when I see one; scenes from children’s books where kids make forts within clusters of trees, using broken pottery as dishes and acorn caps as salt cellars, fly into my head, almost as vividly as if I experienced them myself, though I don’t know which books the scenes are from: Litte House in the Big Woods? Bridge to Terebithia?
The trees in front of my house don’t really make me think of a fanciful shelter; they do have nice, shadowy spaces inside them, but I know, unfortunately, that these are already ersatz toilets for passers-by between bar and subway station late at night, or dogs any time of the day. But I was walking up the hill to the Flak Towers at Humboldthain the other day, on a path bordered by a wide, wide hedge, and hearing voices, instinctively peeked through the low, leafless parts of the hedge, looking for playful feet. That’s when these tree-fort images flew into my head.
I also stumbled upon a grove of trees the other day at the Platz der Vereinten Nationen where an artist had built a little fort of his own. Walking by, I didn’t see anything unusual at first, besides a stray green apple lying in a puddle and some ivy hanging slightly out of place from the branches of a Christmas-tree-like fir. I went closer to look at the ivy and realized that the space between the fir and its closely neighboring trees had been hollowed out with a saw, the trimmings spread on the floor of the newly domesticated space. I was pretty sure it was a self-conscious intervention because I was aware an art organization had just set up shop in the area, which is almost a too bad – it would have been nice to wonder if an ordinary person or child had built this fort.
A few more free associations while thinking about the space under a tree: the sculptures of Christopher Fennell, who installed “Tree Dome” at Artspace while I was working there, and a more permanent tree shelter in New Haven, the amazing willow on the Divinity School grounds on upper Prospect Street. Eric Larson, manager of Yale’s botanical garden (across the street) was married by this tree. Maybe I can ask Eric if he has or can snap a picture of this outdoor room.
Now that I think about it, even my favorite part of Homer’s Odyssey is about a sheltered space under the trees. When Odysseus reached the shore after floating at sea for two days following a shipwreck,
He made his way to a grove above the water
on open ground, and crept under twin bushes
grown from the same spot – olive and wild olive –
a thicket proof against the stinging wind…
nor could a downpour wet it through, so dense
those plants were interwoven. Here Odysseus
tunnelled, and raked together with his hands
a wide bed–for a fall of leaves was there,
enough to save two men or maybe three,
on a winter night, a night of bitter cold.
Odysseus’ heart laughed when he saw his leaf-bed
and down he lay, heaping more leaves above him.