Arboreality: A Partial Phenomenology of Trees 2

I love the covers of books. The feel of their softness, or smoothness, or rough paper under my fingertips. The way the cover promises all that’s within. The cover of the book I’m holding is a shiny plastic veneer over the proclaimed title, the letters subtly raised, catching my hand as it grazes the surface. The pages of the book also have their own feel under the glide of my hands, soft, yet barely reminiscent of the pulp where they originated. The familiar pieces — title page, publication, contents, preface, chapters — mean the same to my sensible awareness flitting across the pages. I have already begun taking this work in, and colorful flags line the first half, breaking the smooth expanse of the page and marking islands of importance on the ocean of words. The latter half remains an intellectual horizon, and the book is balanced in my hand as I raise it to my eyes, cocked, prepped, waiting, like a loaded gun, for the action of reading.

But there is more to this publication than the words strung throughout in a poignant argument, a linear tale. So far removed from its source, it’s hard to imagine this book poised in my hand was once a living, breathing tree. This brings my heart to my throat, a longing for things past, a nostalgia for the way they were, the burden of the unseen and unknowable. I could not begin to imagine what this tree might have looked like, the pages are so heavily macerated into fibrous leaves, all the same weight, size, and color. The character exists only in the ambient words floating over the sheets and not in the form of the book itself. Each angle and moment of my interaction with this object is curated, chosen, determined by someone somewhere and controlled for quality. But where is the quality of livingness? Where is the origin of such an object and how should I know its unique being from a place of bodily sensuality?

Placing my hand between the pages, the weight of the chapters hugging it close, I can go in my imagination to the heartwood of a tree. Beyond this imagined visage, I can feel nothing of the being or beings that created this work in collaboration with the author, editor, and publisher, a silent creative partner in the writing process, rarely recognized even in those books which adeptly address the lifecycle of items or move objects into the realm of subject. Considering this book as pulp — wood — tree — being brings it back into association with the course of living things and into relationship with me. The feel and weight of the book in my hand rivals the thought of the material journey extant without and the overt work of the text within.

This reflection was written for the class Phenomenology of the Body towards a Ph.D. in Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies.