THE GENTLE GIANT NEXT DOOR
By MICHAEL PERKINS
I DID NOT INHERIT MY FATHER’S PASSIONATE TALENT FOR GARDENING and landscaping, although I have always envied the way it miraculously devours him, each season bestowing on him distinct and endless variants of joy. He has owned and maintained the creekside half-acre back of his house for a third of a century now, and, as the aches and pains and limits of his ninety-three years often forbid his going out to play in his own private Walden, I cheer on days when I know it is clear enough, or warm enough, or safe enough for him to be out there. He and the yard get lonely for each other.
What was transmitted to me was his very special love of trees. I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t awed by their beauty, their power, their endurance. That’s why my favorite part of my own “estate” is my view of the towering, sprawling titan just over the rear fence in my neighbor’s back yard. It’s unusual for an old, solid, massive thing like this to have survived the yank-everything-out-start-over ethos of the Southwest suburbs. Perhaps removing it was simply too expensive, too troublesome, leaving it to stand when many lesser trees might have been cleared out to make way for (??) progress? In any event, like anything that is purely or simply beautiful, it makes photographing it fairly complicated.
Over the past twenty years I have captured it in low light and full, dusk and dawn, rain or shine, and still I always come away feeling like I have failed to deliver its full story. Then again, what can its “story” even be? It’s a tree. But therein lies the paradox of making images of anything living, from human passersby to majestic landscapes. Their life is both static and in motion, both in and out of time. The camera both records accurately and lies absolutely when I point it at such a thing.
And so I keep going. What you see here is but the latest attempt from a few days ago. If you have the time, I can put on the kettle and guide you through the hundreds of other attempts I’ve made over the years at finding the soul of my gentle giant. Being that I don’t have to journey to the forest primeval to find something to admire this much, I admit to thinking that I have, you know, plenty of time to get it right. But, while the tree isn’t going anywhere, I certainly am headed, and before too long, for the stage exit. And so I keep going.
The tree has already gotten it right.
Maybe, by running a little harder, I can, in time, catch up with it…..