Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Monday, February 21, 2011

Gospel of the Trees

Some years ago I decided that I wanted to write a book about trees, and more particularly the strangely central role that trees play in the Biblical story. That role meant, necessarily, that they would find their way, profoundly, into Western literature, and I wanted to say something about that too. But I love trees as they are in themselves, as material things in the material world, so I did not want them to take on a purely symbolic or metaphorical significance.

Though I wrote and even published some thoughts about trees, I couldn't get the story to come together, no matter how hard I tried. My thoughts didn't want to coalesce, refused to become a book; they remained scattered and disjointed. Moreover, I knew that if I ever succeeded in weaving them together, the resulting book would demand images — and more images than a cost-conscious publisher would be likely to tolerate.

Only after a long period of worrying over this did I come to the conclusion that my thoughts, such as they were, didn't belong in a book, but rather constituted a website. So I contacted my friend Brad Cathey, a gifted designer, and he made a site for me.

It’s called Gospel of the Trees. Please check it out.


  • Have you seen the photo book, Remarkable Trees by Thomas Pakenham? (Apparently W. W. Norton & Company is slightly less budget conscious)

    It does not have the same focus that you speak of here, and on your intriguing new website. The photos in the book are fingers pointing to a Remarkable God. It was a coffee table book at a rented beach house, and I couldn't get enough of looking at the wonder of it.

    Thanks for "publishing" the website. Interesting format. Thought-full content.

    David Clark

  • Yes, I love that book. Meetings with Remarkable Trees is, I think the full title. I want on my site to pay attention to less remarkable, or less obviously remarkable, trees. Thanks so much for the kind words.

  • Michael Straight said...

    This is beautiful. Wonderful.

    Might you be able to add an index or some interface that is not random? After I'd paged through many of them, they started to repeat and I'm not sure if I've seen them all or what. And I find myself clicking rapidly through to see if there are any new ones, which feels wrong. I really don't want my reaction to those beautiful pictures and rich quotations to be, "yeah, seen that one, anything else?"

  • Michael, I've thought about an index — am still thinking about it — but don't really want to do one. For me the site is closer to an art installation than a site providing information, so an index feels (again, to me) inappropriate. But I haven't made a final decision on it yet.

    If the script Brad wrote for me is working properly, and I think it is, then you'll go through every page on the site before any repetition. There are right now 41 pages. (I suppose if the site gets over a hundred pages — which at some point it probably will — I'll need to seriously rethink my no-index decision!)

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/robroy/60530952/
    I've always liked this:the Mozambique Tree of Life sculpture made of decommissioned weapons. "Beating swords into plowshares"

  • Michael Straight said...

    If the script Brad wrote for me is working properly, and I think it is, then you'll go through every page on the site before any repetition.

    Even if I browse through 20 of them on one computer and then come back to the site later from another computer?

    I'm not literally asking about it for myself, just suggesting that I think it works against what you're trying to do with the site if you create an incentive for people to impatiently glance and click past beautiful pictures and words trying to find the pages they haven't seen yet.

    If you don't want a literal index you could consider some sort of interface that let's you go directly to a particular page number.

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