"Arboreal Australis" - Foreword


“The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity; it affords protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axe-man who destroys it.”

- Gautama Buddha


     I enjoy spending time with family and celebrating the holidays with rich food, laughter, and communion as much as anyone else, but after a whirlwind of gift giving, socializing, and excessive consumption, I feel once again drawn to wild places, where life is much simpler, and to retreat to the solitude and silence they offer. Needing to ground myself once again, my mind and spirit long to be wandering through a dense old growth forest, communing with ancient beings that carry out their lives at a much slower pace than my own.

     Some of the most beautiful forests I have had the pleasure of wandering through are the fern-filled, moss laden beech forests of New Zealand. I was lucky enough to be able to make two separate trips there before the country and world was locked down as a result of the pandemic. There I found both lush emerald paradises, where I would wake up to the lively song of dozens of different birds, as well as lonely, dense, mysterious woods, where I was completely alone, the only occasional sound was the cracking and creaking of branches as a gust of wind swept through.

     I was able to backpack into several different beech forests on both the north and south islands, and spend enough time to get to know and appreciate the subtleties of each one. Some of them were very calming and inviting, others were the most unsettling places I have ever camped in before–in perpetual darkness surrounded by creepy branches and monstrous shapes. In those I found myself conflicted, frightened and fascinated at the same time, wanting to flee while having a desire to discover and see more. It was the first time I felt uncomfortable and horrified while in nature. My paranoid mind projected its worst thoughts and fears onto the endless, dark, tangled, shrouded forest that surrounded me. I would dream at night of being lifted up by grotesque branches and swallowed by the horrible darkness. Regardless of how they each made me feel while I was among them, universally I felt a deep appreciation for all of them and I am glad that they exist. I know for certain it is in our best interest to conserve these unique and remarkable forests as much as we can, all over the world. 

     We can easily quantify the material value of forests by measuring the amount of lumber we can harvest from them (a single beech tree contains up to 14 tons of wood), the food they grow for us to eat, or the amount of oxygen they produce for us to continue breathing. But I feel–like most wild places–their true value and how they can benefit us most is still hugely misunderstood, and this is shown by the increasingly enormous amount of forests that we continue to disturb and destroy.

     Since 1990, the world has lost more than 502,000 square miles (1.3 million square kilometers) of forest, an area larger than South Africa. Nearly half of all the Earth's trees have been cut down now, and many of the trees in our forests have been replanted for harvesting. Recent studies have found that only 40% of the forests that still remain are natural, mostly untouched by human beings, and only 26% of them are in protected areas that prohibit mining, logging, or agriculture.  

     Besides the obvious fact that it destroys our beautiful forests, logging has many negative consequences. Whenever an area of forest is leveled, the homes of millions of creatures are destroyed, forcing them into foreign ecosystems that they have not evolved in. This is not only a threat to their own survival, since they wont find the familiar sustenance that they depend on, it also throws the delicate ecosystems which they move into out of balance, by introducing new predators and viruses which can decimate unadapted populations of species.


     The majority of deforestation has been done in order to create more land for livestock to graze in and raise food for ourselves. This destroys the soil, creates further erosion which can damage waterways and cause flooding, and also contaminates any nearby rivers or streams. 

     Other forests have been leveled for farming, to grow crops to feed ourselves or the animals we eat. When an area of richly diverse forest is replaced by mono-crops, this causes explosive rises in the population of pests and insects which favor them, while the checks and balances that controlled them for millennia are no longer present. Pesticides have been developed and introduced to try and keep these insects from destroying our crops, which inevitably make their way into surrounding ground water or streams and are carried into the habitats around them. Use of these poisonous substances that are harmful to every kind of life form have become common practice, and traces of them can now be found in nearly all of the water and in the tissue of every life form on the planet. 

     Deforestation also destroys the effective safeguards that were put in place by natural selection. As we all know by now, trees consume large amounts of carbon in the atmosphere, which helps to prevent the rapid warming we have been experiencing in the last century. Undisturbed forests are not only more beautiful, but with their rich diversity and dense biomass they are also more effective at absorbing CO2 than replanted forests are.

     Trees attract moisture by releasing terpenes into the air that cause water molecules to clump together in concentrated clusters which creates rain. The hotter it gets, the more of these terpenes they release. They also create moisture by collectively transpiring water–sweating essentially–in order to cool down the surrounding forest and regulate its temperature. This also creates clouds that are carried to drier areas and release rain in order to keep them flourishing. Trees near the coast, where there is an abundance of moisture, pass it along to forests farther and farther inland through this method, as the rain clouds they create are carried away by the wind.

     When trees are cut down, not only do they cease to absorb carbon and create moisture for the rest of the planet, but they release all of the carbon they have stored back into the atmosphere which causes the planet to warm up further. This is creating a negative feedback loop since as forests are destroyed it causes the planet to warm, which kills off more forest through drought and fires, which contributes to global warming, which kills off more forest, etc. 


     Luckily for us that appreciate pristine nature, there are some forests that are still protected from our all consuming lifestyles, and are not forced to serve our growing demands as we continue to populate and develop the Earth. Conservation by designating areas such as national forests in order to protect them is extremely important to combat climate change and keep ecosystems intact. However, there is a fatal flaw in creating these rigid, inflexible boundaries around our forests–forests move.

     As the air warms, trees instinctually migrate poleward in search of cooler, ideal temperatures. Of course the trees themselves do not physically get up and walk, but rather as a species they migrate by intentionally dispersing their seeds, so that the forest as a whole slowly crawls in the favorable direction. We now know that this has been happening since the first forest emerged, since the planet naturally warms and cools over long periods of time. Certain species require warmer temperatures to flourish, others need cooler temperatures or they sunburn and dry out.

     Trees have been observed to migrate as much as half a mile per year. With the Earth now currently warming at a more accelerated rate than ever, trees are also in a race against time,  and will need to migrate much faster than they have before if they hope their species will survive. This means that the trees within the forest areas we protect with marked boundaries–surrounded by concrete highways and structures–could one day migrate out of existence, having nowhere else to go.


     In spite of the common belief that all of the trees within a forest are in constant competition for light, space, and water, many trees actually take care of one another. 500 year old tree stumps have been found in beech forests, still alive, despite their inability to photosynthesize since they no longer have leaves. This implies that they are still receiving nutrients and sustenance from the roots of the other trees around them. Perhaps this is out of continued respect for an elderly family member that has passed on.

     Beech trees take care of their own, by sharing food, water, and messages with one another through their roots which are all interconnected beneath the ground. The thirsty receive water, the sick receive nourishment, and the weary receive encouragement (even just by cutting down a single tree, we cut off this connection that many trees have with one another through their roots, and they will no longer be able to communicate with or send aid to one another). Greedy trees that try to hog resources or space are quickly exiled and cut off from the community's assistance. This tribal and family-like dedication to one another is the reason beech forests last for thousands of years. Trees obviously do much better living within a caring community than they do on their own. 

     In a healthy forest, trees can help protect one another by sending alerts through scents that they release as soon as there is a sign of drought, frost, or a predator at the edge of the tree line. This is a universal characteristic of most tree species. However, through observations throughout the years, we have discovered that beech trees have also developed an even more sophisticated means of self defense. Large browsers such as deer and wild boar feed on many of the seeds that beech trees drop. The more food available, the more the population of these predators also increases, and the less the beeches are able to reproduce in order to keep the forest alive. Through population data gathered from each year, beech trees have shown that they can somehow sense the population size of these predators and as a result have come up with an elegant, simple solution. Whenever there is a spike in their predators’ numbers, they will purposely produce significantly fewer seeds in the springtime in order to starve them and reduce the population once again. This advanced method of intentional population control is something that would most likely have been considered a fairytale just a decade or so ago.

“We think about plants being robotic, following a genetic code. Plants and trees always have a choice about what to do. Trees are able to decide, have memories and even different characters. There are perhaps nicer guys and bad guys.”

- Peter Wohlleben

"Cloud Dance"

     Beech trees have also been shown to create crucial relationships with other creatures in the forest that help ensure their survival. Like most trees, they share nutrients and oxygen with fungi in the soil in exchange for minerals that only the fungi can access as they mine through rocks. The fungi also help trees to send nutrients, water, and messages to one another as the millions of fungal veins in the soil connect their roots together.

     But they also form symbiotic relationships with ants–which trees attract by secreting sugars and proteins that they depend on (aphids are also attracted to this glucose, and ants will corral the aphids and eat it as they pee it out or when they are impatient they will milk the aphids by tapping on their backs which makes them squeeze it out)–allowing them to build their homes within their bark while the ants commit to be their body guards against other herbivores. With their ferocious appetites, ants are extremely effective at exterminating the other insects that attempt to prey on trees. The excreta of ants also creates a valuable and rich compost of nutrients which benefits the soil of its host tree and its future offspring. 

     Trees are some of the most fascinating beings on this planet. And we are just barely beginning to learn how intricate, intelligent, and complex they are, both as individuals and as forests. As a photographer, they are also some of the most visually unique subjects I have been able to photograph, as they very in shape, size, and arrangement everywhere you go. Even within the same species, no two trees are completely alike, and when trying to create compositions, these subtle differences become strikingly apparent.

     We have now found over 60,000 different species of tree on this one single planet. And there are likely tens of thousands more, deep within the Amazon or the Chinese interior, that may forever remain undiscovered–that we may cause to go extinct before we find them. Photographing trees has helped me grow a deep respect and appreciation for them, as I now observe each of them more closely. Noting how unique each of them is has made me more apprehensive about losing any of them.


“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more, including the spruce tree that should have outlived me but did not.”

- Hope Jahren

     Reading about trees and learning about how they have evolved to be the marvelous beings that they are has also helped me to value them more. Learning of their struggles and their complex relationships with one another, other creatures, and the weather, has caused me to feel more compassion towards them. The more we learn of their lives, the more we can relate with them, and appreciate all that they innovate and endure to survive.

     As the forests and many other remarkable works of nature continue to disappear, I have learned something new about what it means to be a photographer during this time. My primary motivation during the last several years has been to teach people through photographs the great value that these places have in their pure and natural states, and why it is important that we do all we can to conserve them. But even in the tragic event that I fail to convince people of this, I have realized that my efforts will not be in vain. As I capture and document this vanishing world, my photographs will preserve these places as visual memories after they are long gone, and will allow future generations to also be amazed by the wonders of nature, and have a glimpse of how beautiful their home once was. 

If you would like to learn more about ancient forests and experience a place like this yourself,

consider signing up for our forest photography workshop in Olympic National Park.

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