With some regional museums and exhibition space still closed and planning to reopen, we are continuing to remind readers of their important contributions by highlighting visual art works you can visit as soon as social distancing practices change and gallery doors open again.

That includes the Tulpehaking Nature Center, a county facility on the Abbott Marshlands in Hamilton, where regional naturalists Patricia Bender and Mary Allessio Leck saw their photographic mediation on trees, “Wisdom of Trees,” open in late February and close a few weeks later because of COVID-19.

With the nature center’s gallery closed until the pandemic passes, the exhibitors wait patiently until the exhibition can go on view. But in the meantime, they share some thoughts and images here.

Mary Leck

Mary Leck’s ‘Red Maple Burls,’ taken at Roebling Park in Hamilton.

Trees, without my being aware of it, have long been a part of my experience. I wondered as a child whether the orange seed I’d swallowed, would grow inside me. Later, I had a favorite White Pine I climbed regularly to its very top. The rings of branches were well spaced, perfect for arboreal exploration. We played cowboy and Indians in a pine woods … with real camp fires. In another nearby woods I searched for wild flowers, but knew paper birch, hemlock, beech, and maple trees. Later in other locations, I saw sequoias (CA), kauri trees (NZ), El Trule — a Montezuma cypress (Mexico), and Eucalyptus species (Australia). In a Honolulu (HI) park, there was an enormous tree with votive candles at its base.

However, it was a sycamore at the Bordentown Beach that made me aware of tree bark growth. I photographed its particularly lovely bark and when I later looked at the photograph, I saw how the bark cracked into patches that peeled, revealing hidden colors and textures, and hinting how the tree accommodated its growth. I hadn’t been paying attention. When I really started looking, I soon realized that all trees do not all respond to growth stresses in the same way. My photographs explore these differences. Bark is remarkable in its variety even on the same tree

The colors, textures, and patterns of tree bark provide ample opportunities for observation and to ask questions about the physical forces involved and the significance of all that variability. [I wonder whether anyone ever hears the sounds of bark cracking.]

We can learn from trees, but to understand their wisdom we need to take time, to observe, and to reflect on what we see, to be receptive to the gifts nature provides. We need to wonder, too, about the intricacies of DNA and how trees will meet, for example, the challenges of climate change.

Patricia Bender

Patricia Bender’s ‘Pods,’ taken at Duke Farms in Hillsborough.

I have always loved trees. As a child, I loved them naively. They were big and beautiful. They were fun to climb, looking for the perfect spot to settle down and read a good book. They provided a cool and shaded spot during hot summer days. I gave them no thought. They were.

As I grew older, I loved them intellectually. I began to learn interesting facts about them in biology and natural science classes. They appeared in great literature. I saw their miraculous beauty and complexity depicted in masterpieces of art. Still, I gave them little thought. They were.

As an adult I have grown to love them passionately. They have provided me with solace and comfort during times of pain and loss. They speak to me of eternal truths on my walks through the woods. I lose my sense of self when I get lost looking up at the play of their leaves.

When I began to study photography, I found myself photographing trees obsessively. They are my favorite subject. I always see something new when I photograph a tree. They don’t move… all that much. They are constantly changing, eternally beautiful.

I pay great attention to trees these days. I give them lots of thought. They are.

It is my hope that this exhibition will excite this same love of trees in you: that you will think of them often, look at them closely, and be thankful for all they give us and our planet.

I have chosen to title my images in this exhibition after the myriad lessons I have learned from trees over my many years of living among them.

Tulpehaking Nature Center, 157 Westcott Avenue, Hamilton, www.mercercountyparks.org/#!/facilities/tulpehaking-nature-center. Check website for reopening updates.

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