Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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p. vii

List of Drawings

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p. viii

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Prologue: The Elements

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p. 2

Earth Air Fire Water. The elements are exacting, arduous, rigorous, do not give, sympathize, or control, oppose each other, resist and consume, construct and deconstruct, create and destroy.
People have always known these forces or materials as abstractions we must live within. The Elements are the environment...

Great Basin Landscape #3

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p. 3

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Abstraction

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p. 4

Ecologists sometimes speak of “simplified” ecosystems at high altitudes. Indeed, dynamics of the world abstract themselves up here. Also, large things are worn away, and the small becomes immense. Those who arrive are tempted to withdraw from worldly affairs, and become ascetic.
Anyone might become drawn away...

Sunrise (Sierra Juniper)

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p. 5

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A Map of Time

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p. 6

Cut across the body of an old bristlecone pine, as someone once did here, obtaining scientific samples above the Patriarch Grove, at timberline. What you are faced with looks remarkably like a contour map whose scale is time. Can you read this hieroglyph?
The record is before you: a manuscript of life here for...

Tree Rings

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p. 7

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Maps Made of Trees

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p. 8

We live in a heroic age of mapping. Yet another mappa mundi proliferates inside living beings in ways not like the images humans make. Humans sometimes aspire to impossible exactitude. Maps inside life might reveal a grasping for opportunity and a letting go.
Consider the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges...

Mean Solar Time

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p. 9

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Tree as a Tool

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p. 10

Modern black drawing ink is made pretty much the same way as it was first made, twenty-four hundred years ago, in India and China. It’s water based, with shellac for binder and carbon black for pigment.
The first dipping pens were reeds, then goose quills. Early Egyptians used copper and bronze pens, but these...

Ghost Bristlecone

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p. 11

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Drawing Life

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p. 12

We are thinking of limber pines on the shattered granite ridges above Crooked Creek. We admire these trees, which tell no stories out of school. Here many have been scarred by lightning, fractured, toppled, burned, yet they continue their ways, tossing their cones into gullies, adorning many boulders with pitch. You...

Limber Pine #1

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p. 13

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Local Knowledge

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p. 14

Why draw an individual tree on an individual ridge unmarked on any chart, unless what matters most is local knowledge? Why draw at all? This living entity, in this place right here! in the White Mountains, thirty miles west of the Sierra, across the Owens Valley. Yes, we are told a good deal these days: how, through the...

Strip Growth (Sierra Juniper)

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p. 15

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June Juniper

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p. 16

I am looking at the trunk of an old Sierra juniper that seems hardly able to hold itself together, strips of wood curling off the trunk, the bark hiding on its shadowed side. This tree does not paint itself from photos.
Many of these trees live atop the granite domes...

Spiral Growth

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Cover

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p. 18

“Cover the Earth” intones a somewhat frightening trademark, introduced in 1905 by a paint manufacturer called Sherwin-Williams. Drawing a shroud over the surface of our globe.
Trees too cover the earth, more lightly than us, not by hiding it exactly, and they have done so for about 360 million years. They do it incrementally. Individuals...

Seedling (Bristlecone Pine)

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p. 19

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Tree Lines

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p. 20

Up high, you can see lines of trees on dolomite ridges—call them tree lines. There are so many trees, and they have so many different things to say. So too with the maps. It has occurred to us that maps are, and always have been, stories. Trees do not tell stories. We tell stories: we draw maps. Story-lines: Line-drawings: Tree lines....

The Abstract Truth

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p. 21

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Concerning Milford Zornes

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p. 22

The artist asks, “Why do I like to draw the dead and very aged forms?” as she looks through her sketchbook, seeing that she likes them—and now she is speaking of her drawings—because they are so simple. These forms attest to the fact that all drawings are based on only four types of lines—the horizontal, vertical, diagonal...

Campito Mountain: Loud Wind (Bristlecone Pine)

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p. 23

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Correspondence

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p. 24

Whatever is happening in the forests of the White Mountains is real, though perhaps frightening. One of the things happening now: An artist is drawing trees. Not too long ago a friend, the poet Kay Ryan, wrote to her:
Thank you so much for showing me these arresting drawings/paintings...

Learning to Lean (Bristlecone Pine)

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p. 25

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Getting into Trees

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p. 26

In some sense, these old trees seem made almost entirely of memory. But they also are living bodies. Dendrochronologists here catalog tree rings of one particular species, the Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva). Very few trees of interest to these scientists grow round in shape, or ring themselves with living tissue. Some...

Inside the Bristlecone

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p. 27

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Memory and Desire

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p. 28

Yet the thing about orientation is that you are not nowhere when you can find yourself on the map—and we are not talking about road maps here. Whatever you see is on the paper, even if not posted there (realized or hidden), and whatever conclusions you draw come from a place that you can document, and say: “Here it is

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy (Bristlecone Pine)

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p. 29

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Campito Mountain

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p. 30

What does one know about the few live and the occasional long-dead trees on Campito Mountain? What is local knowledge? Campito Mountain is Red. This matters. The Campito Formation has been defined as 3500 feet of “massive black quartzitic sandstone interbedded with gray siltstone and shale” above the upper dolomite...

Limber Pine #2

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p. 31

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Adversity and Resilience

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p. 32

In 1954, Edmund Schulman (1908–58) published an article entitled “Longevity Under Adversity in Conifers,” in which he argued that because the tree is situated in an adverse environment, it lives long. The tree lives long because of the adverse environment it faces. Resilience: to rebound, recoil, jump, leap...

Spinal Tap (Puma Skeleton)

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p. 33

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Spaces

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p. 34

The spaces between words are like the spaces between live and dead trees. People speak of the forest’s floor as if there were a dance going on. Who will map the extravagant litter of pinecones or follow the trajectory of seeds? Not the Clark’s Nutcracker that splits green cones! Who will chronicle the...

Two Trees Dancing

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p. 35

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The Cross

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p. 36

The four ridges of Blanco Mountain, as Tim Forsell, my friend, says, form a perfect cross. And so it seems when one is on the summit, where tree-lined ridges invite walking to the north, south, east, or west. Such symmetry or orientation does not appear on my topographical map. Is this a problem of scale or perception? Near...

An Unbidden Thought (Bristlecone Pine)

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p. 37

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The Relic Grove

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p. 38

Perfecting the art of slow walking: perfecting the art of slow reading: studying an archaeology of life signs, taking surprising turns.
A sphere of (pink) dolomite perched on a ledge beside a long-dead, windscoured, sun-bleached tree, spirals of bare denuded roots hovering above the same ledge...

Heartwood (Bristlecone Pine)

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p. 39

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A Steep Laboratory

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p. 40

A great deal of beautiful wood embellishes the slopes of Campito Mountain, in remarkable shapes and finishes. How many shapes? How many embellishments, how decorous? How “dressed up” as a fiction? Yes, it is a sculpture garden and most pieces are labeled. Was it more than just wood to Valmore LaMarche and the...

11,600 in the Whites

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p. 41

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Twisted: Sinistral and Dextral

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p. 42

All these trees are capable of twisting, but not all do so. Some spiral one way, and others spiral another way, and some do not spiral at all. Maybe this seemingly inexplicable behavior strengthens the tree’s trunk, especially in wind; some believe they whirl as a “defensive reaction.” This is a good story, that they “bend and twist...

Two Degrees of Separation

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p. 43

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Strip Growth (or Strip-Bark Growth)

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p. 44

A tree grows from under its bark. On many high-altitude conifers, bark is scoured, eroded, and desiccated by wind-driven ice and sand, typically from the west, southwest, and south. A tree may lose much of its bark, so that its remaining lifeline is reduced to a strip, almost always on the upslope side. To be honest...

Harlequin

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p. 45

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Dolomite

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p. 46

As a mineral, calcium magnesium carbonate, CaMg(CO3)2, is found in a white, gray, brown, or reddish crystalline rock with a vitreous to pearly luster. Its origin remains something of a mystery.
Perhaps the White Mountains of California are named for this mineral, or rock, or for the snow that covers the range each winter...

True North

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p. 47

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Contact

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p. 48

Walter Benjamin wrote that humans “can be in ecstatic contact with the cosmos only communally. It is the dangerous error of modern men to regard this experience as unimportant and avoidable, and to consign it to the individual as the poetic rapture of starry nights.”
These are not private affairs, according to him: just as...

You Never Can Tell (Sierra Juniper)

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p. 49

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Lenticular Tree

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p. 50

Walking among old trees, many of them dead, along a high ridge on miles of dolomite, the stone itself made of dead lives from shallow seas. There is no end to these trees, no end to these walks, no end to life.
I call it the Lenticular Tree (labeled 948 2002), as in lens or cloud. It is a twin tree, a double, dead and alive. Just about...

Grace of Melancholy

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p. 51

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Regarding CAM 40

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p. 52

Two bristlecones, both alive, on a ridge above the place where Al Noren situated his sawmill. You can see the road from here, and the Sierra, and much more. But right here are two trees, both alive, one standing, one reclining, while a third, once tall and straight, now dead, lies below, supporting. Only the standing tree has...

Wailing Souls (Bristlecone Pines)

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p. 53

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Trees Transform Time into Space

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p. 54

Drawing sunlight, minerals, water, they inscribe maps of changes using these components of life, within their own bodies.
Trees are mnemonic devices in many ways. From their seeds come bodies. From bodies come seed. Always the procreative urge, the litter of cones reminds us...

Black and Kind of Blue

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p. 55

Bristlecone Bark

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p. 56

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Afterword

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pp. 57-66

Valerie believes that specific trees call to her. She says they choose her. Michael believes that Valerie selects her trees. In any case, when they walk among the trees, she establishes the itinerary and route. During nearly fifty years of walking together in the mountains, they have spent a great deal of time observing the forests and...

Notes and References

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pp. 67-68

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Acknowledgements

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pp. 69-70

We would like to thank Asa Gilmore at Ruckus Visual Arts; Jon Christensen at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, and the Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies; and Cheryll Glotfelty, who has been a constant source of encouragement. We would also like to thank Boom: A Journal of California...

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About the Authors

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pp. 71-72

Valerie Patricia Cohen was born in 1946, in Pasadena, California, daughter of the notable mountaineers Ruth and John Mendenhall. She holds an AA degree in criminal justice from Southern Utah University, and BA and MA degrees in English literature from UCLA and UC Riverside. Cohen has worked as a backcountry cook...