Connecting People to Trees

 Isabella Bobrow, UC Santa Cruz

The goal of this project is to explore the emotional connections people have with trees. Especially on the UC Santa Cruz campus, trees are the primary markers of place and central to the community’s identity. This project is partially inspired by two projects connecting people to trees: Cooking Sections’ “Offsetted,” which explored the rights of trees, and the Melbourne Urban Forest initiative, which mapped trees and invited people to email them. Both are based in a specific geographic region, as will this.

The focus of this installation would be a circle of “parts” of trees suspended in space with metal supports. These “parts” would be dead branches, leaves, or fallen trunks – whatever can be harvested without hurting the organism. Each will be given a description in the pamphlet, and the metal supports will have hooks on them that allow people to leave responses. I intend to make a film approximately 15 minutes long, which would be played on a projector, of people interacting with their favorite trees and speaking to them. The exchange between person and tree is one in which the tree is mostly silent. It has a history, but personality is projected onto it by the people who enjoy its presence. As such, the majority of the work comes from the responses people give. There will be an area for people to share what the trees mean to them via poems, letters, drawings, or other expressions of love.

People’s intimate relationships with natural objects like plants, fungi, and soil are vital to their sense of place. The world over, people remember the tree in the backyard of their childhood home. People chain themselves to trees they don’t want to see felled. Children read “The Giving Tree.” For UC Santa Cruz, trees are often the most significant landmarks. Although we cycle through every four years, they stay, and are ascribed different personalities by the people who come to know them. In academia trees have financial and ecological value, but emotional value is rarely discussed. The most beloved of all is sequoia sempervirens, called “California redwood” by some. It is a symbol of California and of UCSC, and projects that would dare to cut one down are met with disgust. This project is an innocent and emotional exploration of these relationships.