The Lorax, a Seussian children’s-book character, defended his native Truffula forests by speaking for the trees. Shutterbug and bonafide dendrophile Ruthie Rosauer of Flat Rock prefers a different approach: she speaks to the trees.
“Occasionally I am so moved by a tree that I do, literally, drop to my knees in reverence. I doubt that the tree is aware of my feelings. But in expressing them I hope to open myself to receiving something I cannot define from the tree,” Rosauer prefaces in her book, These Trees. “It is my attempt to signal to the tree, ‘I am here and I am paying attention.’”
Published last year, These Trees features 140 color photographs of everyday and exotic specimens; the latter include Sargent’s weeping hemlock and the tropical Monkeypod. Frames are accompanied by poems and quotations, curated so readers won’t grow lonesome during their wooded amble. Rosauer’s decision to include text — submitted by more than 90 poets — came from a concern that standalone pictures would feel too “sterile and isolating.” Kind of like her time living in Amarillo, Texas.
“I was raised in New Jersey, where plants just grew. Trees were always there, so I took them for granted,” she tells Bold Life. “Then my husband and I moved to Texas where there were very, very few trees.” Despite being named for its yellow wildflowers, Amarillo offered little of the arboreal green Rosauer found she needed. Even busy with a newly minted law degree, she felt something was remiss, admitting she spent her time there pacing, crying, and craving nature. “My husband came home one day and said, ‘How many trees do you need?’ To which I replied, ‘I want 100.’”
Since moving to Hendersonville six years ago, Rosauer has encountered hundreds, if not thousands, of graceful maples and gnarled elms. Each window, save one, in her Crooked Creek home faces woodland; she has traveled to Kauai, Hawaii, numerous times, first with a point-and-shoot and later with more advanced gear (see her blog for strong opinions on tripods); and she is no stranger to the North Carolina Arboretum in South Asheville, which houses the most dazzling Eastern redbuds.
In the field, she looks for character, maturity, and a qualifier called “tree aperture.” “It’s like when you look at stained glass,” she explains. “You could focus on the pretty colors, or you could look at the parts that connect each piece.”
Hard to pin down, aperture is captured in Rosauer’s chapter on shape, where trees morph into deciduous delights like the infamous dragon-shaped tree located a short way off Milemarker 417 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, on the trail to Skinnydip Falls. “If I see an eye, heart, or face [in a tree], I can’t get there fast enough,” she says with a laugh. The 167-page, soft-cover book is further organized by anatomy: Bark, Leaves, Shapes, Roots, Crowning Glories, Whole Trees. And though Rosauer dotes on all aspects of trees, one facet is unlike the others.
“Oh, my God, I could do a whole book on bark,” she breathes. In all its bumpy and grainy glory, bark is her beloved. It has texture and color, but also a sense of fluidity, changing as the tree ages. “The bark of a paperbark maple, for instance, is so beautiful, especially when it curls and sunlight shines through. It’s like honey,” she says.
Lacebark elms are a favorite, too, rooting themselves in tight frames that push onlookers to observe their splendor. Flip to page 29, and you can almost feel the elm’s rutted, jigsaw bark and smell its sweet, woodsy balm. In these instances, the publication feels less like a book and more like an experience.
“I want it to be a little oasis — a private Eden in [the reader’s] living room,” says Rosauer. “In a larger sense, though, I hope people are moved enough that they do something.”
That something is still ill-defined. Maybe readers will drive less or plant an evergreen or choose biodegradable products. Unlike the Lorax, whose definitive goal was to scotch the Once-ler’s shortsighted corporate greed, Rosauer is unsure of where These Trees will take her, and, by extension, the surrounding community. Nonetheless, she’s grounded for the journey. Her heart wants trees; that’s all she can vow.
“I’ve been asked so many times why I photograph trees,” she says. “I don’t know, honestly.”
Ruthie Rosauer will sign books on Saturday, March 3, 5-7pm, at Tryon Painters & Sculptors (78 North Trade St. in Tryon), opening her one-month exhibit there lasting through April 7. She makes an author appearance Saturday, March 24, 12-3pm, at A Walk in the Woods (423 North Main St. in Hendersonville). She will also partner with the Hendersonville Tree Board and landscape designer Sieglinde Anderson to present “For the Love of Trees: How to Create a Garden in the Shade” at the Henderson County Library (301 North Washington St.) on Tuesday, March 20, 6-8pm. Other author appearances include March 31 at Mountain Made in Asheville and April 4 at Bullington Gardens in Hendersonville. For more information, see ruthierosephotography.com.