#394: Pruning

Black and white. Doric columns at the Parthenon, metal crane in background with glow of sun.
Acropolis, Athens, Greece (December 2014)

I’m on spring break from the architecture program this week, and for a few days temperatures hit the 80s here in Detroit. I biked to coffee meetings and got ice cream. Twice. This weekend I caught up on yard maintenance and pruned some of the trees along the back and side of the house, which I should’ve done a month ago when it was still winter. But here we are.

There’s a particular Norway spruce that grows out from our house’s northern face. Curves out, is more like it. The trunk starts almost sideways, arcing in an upwards parabola, the tree over time having reached itself out of the shade of the house to find sun. I was underneath with my ladder and folding saw, pruning a few low branches – mostly dead ones – when I was struck how I didn’t really need to use the saw much at all. That many of those low dead branches just snapped right off. The tree had, in a way, already pruned itself.

This might sound pat but it’s what happened: I marveled at how adaptive this tree – and every tree – was. Is. Each branch is a new project, and trees know to direct nourishment toward ones with leaves more clearly in the sun. Over time, the leader branches spawn offshoots; the tree builds on its successes, doing so with exuberance. Utter exuberance.

Of course, trees shoot out branches that don’t do so well, too. Such is the nature of experimentation and growth. But trees know to redirect energy away from these projects, let them dry and brittle, so they fall from a squirrel’s landing or a yank by a guy in a tank top and Carhartt gloves. All as a matter of fact, without complaint. The trees’ exuberance, it seems, comes also from their being able to let go of what needs to be let go.

Maybe I’m projecting (that’s pro·jecting, not project·ing). But I couldn’t help but feel, standing under its canopy, that this tree was teaching me about itself. And teaching me about me, too.

Back in the studio on Monday. I’ll leave you tonight with maybe the best thing I read all week, this ode to architectural pastiche that completely upends what I understood about modern architecture’s claim to carrying the mantle of “honesty in materials.” The mind-blown-dot-gif part for me was learning that the stone columns and detailing of the Parthenon were emulating wood.