Interpreting Tree Shapes in the Woods — All Art, No Science

“The trees are making me claustrophobic.” An out-of-town friend said this as I drove us on a rural road in North Carolina.

The tall, evergreen trees stood close to both sides of the two-lane road, and at points, they arched above us and almost touched each other.

She explained that she grew up in an area of California that had flat, wide-open spaces and you could see all around you when driving. But here, they blocked her view and she felt squeezed into her space.

Maybe trees were like clouds and the observer imagined what they were. I always felt warm and cozy on these roads, like the trees were hugging me.

On every hike through the woods, I photograph unique trees, especially ones that I can imagine as people. So, let’s take a look at a few photographs and this novice’s skill at interpreting tree shapes.    

The Guardian Soldier Tree

After walking ten minutes from the parking lot, down a solitary path in the woods to the entryway of the various trails, I reached a fork in the path, neither one labeled. Then I noticed this double-trunk tree.

tall, double-trunk tree with green leaves

This soldier tree was a guardian warning all who entered the trail to behave.

I asked him which path was which trail but got no response. Sentry duty requires focus and discipline.

This gigantic soldier was mesmerizing. In fact, I stared up for so long at the canopy that I felt off balance.

The Climbing-Up-the-Bank Tree

My impulse was to help this tree. It was clearly desperate to climb up the bank, using its arms and legs to dig in the dirt and not be tossed by the rocks and erosion into the creek below. This tree with flexible arms even had an elbow.

Tree on edge of trail next to creek

The Ceremonial Welcoming Trees

These trees have hospitality duties and welcome the hikers by bending and bowing before them. I felt honored and also glad they were so thin that if they suddenly bowed too deeply, I’d be fine.

Two thin trees bending over a trail in the woods

The Perpetually Leaning Tree

At first, I was sad for this tree that had lost a leg and was falling while its friend tried to catch it. Then I wondered if the larger tree was bending over to kiss the smaller tree. Either way, it looked solidly planted and even though it was damaged, it still persevered and stood its ground.

a tree bent over next to a tree standing straight

The Tour Guide Trees for the Stairway to Nowhere

True, I was just following a trail and the trees were there, but in my mind, these trailside trees led me to this special place, the largest, steepest stairway in the woods that I’ve seen in my extremely limited hiking experience.

Impressed with these trees, I later texted a friend. She seemed excited that I had found the stairway to nowhere. I didn’t know what that was, but the article clarified it. This particular stairway led to more trails and some achy knees, so it definitely led somewhere.

trees surrounding a wooden stairway in the forest

Pooh Bear’s Honey Tree

Lots of trees have holes, but this was big enough that I stood a while waiting for a critter to come out. My favorite childhood stuffed animal, Pooh Bear, came to mind and I wondered if this was his honey tree. Sure, no bees were around, but I could see Pooh Bear squeezing himself into that hole. Just to remind me of Pooh’s adventures I watched this clip of Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree and got to hear Pooh singing the catchy song, “Rumbly in my Tumbly.”

close-up of a large hole in a tree

That’s a wrap-up of interpretations of some tree shapes. Do you have a different perspective on these benevolent, southern trees?

This exercise did make me wonder if trees imagine people as particular tree species.

While I don’t know enough to accurately imagine myself as a specific tree, I want to be one that stays green and cheery through the winter, so I’d like to be in the pine family. Then again, I do like to watch squirrels hunt for nuts, so maybe I’d be an oak tree that can drop buckets of acorns for all those persistent, rascally gray squirrels around here.

acorn hanging on tree near green leaf
Photo by Petr Ganaj on

If you’d like to read more about my thoughts on nature when in nature, take a look at Roses, a Big Dog and Camera Filter — In Search of an Alternate Reality or Swim, Eat, Bolt — a Little Waterfowl Drama at the Pond.

7 thoughts on “Interpreting Tree Shapes in the Woods — All Art, No Science

    1. Thanks! I’ve never been to a desert, but I can imagine that the tall cactus that I’ve seen in pictures of the Southwest U.S. must look a
      lot like people with those arms.


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