Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Answer Tree

Yesterday's small act was to increase the ridge around the opening of the tree's hollow (seen begun on left). As I was taping down newspaper I noticed that when I pushed one side of the oval inward it suggested an ear shape. This was a fun "a-ha" moment for me because the hollow had a lot of great contours and depth to it. As the tree kept being enlarged and made thicker to fit better with the cottage, I always left the same hollow which made it very similar to an over-sized ear canal. I sculpted more paper and tape into a form that I hope will only hint at an ear at first glance after it's all textured and finished out to look like tree bark.

A Very Special Concept Added:

Two years ago, I read a wonderful blog post from photographer Jen Gray describing the way she would have a group of children in her care whisper their most secret wish into what naturally looked like an ear on a tree while at play in the park. She would sometimes position herself to treat herself to hearing the sweet wishes and bit her lip at hearing such things as, "I wish I could fly" or "I wish my daddy would come home." She said the children believed strongly in the magic of this "Wishing Tree" in the playful, marvelous way only children can.

And I've heard too of an ancient, universal tale of the "Listening Tree" where if one closes their eyes and presses their back against a very wise, old tree, they will be allowed to hear forest secrets.

For Halfland, I've taken the spirit in both of these ideas and made one of my own. It will be something that will be spelled out in a short animation after the Halfland story is fully completed, an additional little tale perhaps, made on the same set.

I had always known that the Halfland tree would have a certain percentage of its leaves be made of paper with hand-script writing on them (sketched on the right, above), like the pages of a book. "Leaves" of a tree and the "leaves" of a book being the same word in English being the subconscious fun of it. However now, anyone who comes upon this special Answer Tree in Halfland can whisper the question that they most want answered into the new hollow ear in its trunk. After a long while their answer will appear, written out on a new leaf. Maybe answers grow on all the new green leaves but are only seen as they turn pale to die as paper.

I love this new idea for many reasons. One of which is that I love the concept of a person having to endure calmly while their answer works up naturally through the process of the tree producing its leaves, on a lot of levels. I love the idea of someone having to search for their answer among the thousands of leaves, both green and paper, on a magnificent old tree. I believe that in searching through all the other wanted answers, on the way to finding their's, the original question would become ultimately unimportant. The answer, once sought, is often perceived through the patience of waiting itself.

"Demanding" Work:
While looking for something else I came across an old post on Jaime Zollar's paper blog, Paper Forest, from 2005. A mention of Thomas Demand's masterful paper recreation of a forest made entirely out of paper, all 200,000 green paper leaves, placed by hand. I was so glad to read this for two reasons, one, because now I no longer feel as INSANE!!!! for planning to hand place about 5,000, or perhaps even less, leaves on Halfland's tree. And two, because in viewing the artist's slide show of this work I was inspired to create a sun in the sky.

I'll explain myself. Part of Mr. Demand's "Flare" (paper forest) piece involved photographs of, what I believe to be, a paper sky backdrop with a brilliant glare of the sun flaring through the leaves in the lens of his camera. In looking at that I was reminded of Gilad Arazi's proud description of his talented wife, Hila Rosenberg-Arazi's use of a high intensity pinlight aimed at a certain spot on one of her amazing model sets for it to appear on camera as though the light fixture itself was emitting light.

I pictured myself painting glue and applying shiny, silver leafing (there's that word is again) foil onto my projected sky backdrop, aiming a spotlight at it, and seeing whether Halfland can get a sweet sun illusion that way.

And I didn't even have to wait for a leaf to grow to get that idea... or did I?

And How About You?

All readers of Notes From Halfland are hereby invited to gather up their most important questions, leave them in the comments, and each one will be put on a piece of paper and placed deep inside the Answer Tree through the hollow, as though they whispered it privately. When the set is all built, perhaps their answer will be written on one of the paper leaves. Photos of all answers will appear on a special Flickr page.


  1. Thats Amazing Shelley, I was actually on a walk and I saw a magnificent tree, its roots were awe-inspiring and it had what looked like an ear from a distance...Thanks for mentioning that.

    Not sure what I'd like to be put in the tree from me...let me think about it...why dont you put that question on the sidebar so everyone can put one in if they dont read this post!


  2. oh, my, i love this idea. let's see...

    * when will we learn to take care of each other?

    a lot of my other questions are really just variations of that one.

  3. That's amazing, Ben! Thank you for telling me that story. I didn't imagine it was something that could be in all our imaginations! Very cool.

    Great idea to make it a side bar feature. I set it up today and will update about it. Thanks!

    Thanks, Gretchin, I love your question. Mine would be all selfish, like "Willl I get to finish Halfland?"

  4. Anonymous11:20 PM

    Wonderful sharing of the concept of the listening tree. I like your idea: storing questions in the base of the tree, where they sip down to the roots and sprouts answers.
    What creative imagination you have.

    My question: How can I be like a "listening tree?"

  5. It's two years later, Corey. The Answer Tree has grown your leaf:

    "You already are."


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