How firm Old Tjikko relates to Japanese aesthetics
At last I know why I am so fascinated by this Old Tjikko. The tree mystery has revealed itself from the shades of distant memory, coming up with an unexpected explanation. The appearance of this tree, in combination with its natural environment, reminds me of Japan. This needs some clarification. How could a small Norway spruce in Swedish Dalarna relate to the land of the rising sun? The answer to this can be found in the Japanese garden, as it happened to be the playground of my early childhood years. In these places of contemplation, cut off from the outer side natural surroundings, every detail is taken care of.
The Japanese ‘dry landscape’ garden
A Japanese garden, although inspired by nature does not grow in the natural way. The so called ‘dry landscape’ garden (karesansui, the Ryōan-ji garden in Kyoto is obviously the best example of this refined style) is a place cut off from the outside natural world by carefully created borders. Meticulously maintained they are the green temples of serenity, controlled by the hands of the gardener. The water, the stones, the plants and the accessories: these essential elements are all arranged following strict aesthetic principles, in order to reveal and to connect with more deeper layers. Thus, religious, symbolic and philosophical meaning are bestowed upon each and every thing that has been allowed a place. Manmade, you enter a world of symbolism, defining impermanence as ruling principle of life. Subtlety and elegance are in every detail. Japanese gardens show trees and plants as the embedded sculptures in a architectural design, each and every one of them empowered with meaning. Their positioning, their shape and their life cycle are all equally a contribution to the whole.
Old Tjikko’s Swedish shades of grey
The lonesome tree on Fulufjället equals this subtle beauty. It is just what it is, not cultivated. Hence it cannot be described and apprehended using some of the parameters that work well with man-made objects: form and proportions. It is in fact the elegant fragility of the old spruce combined with this specific surroundings, more rough and harsh, that qualify. As a whole it is nature in an untamed version. And maybe that is exactly what appeals to us. Desolate surroundings and wilderness areas have the attractiveness of nature in its pure appearance. When you are here, it is up to you to adapt and to adjust, not the other way around. In other words: you have to do something. It is not a mere passive presence that you’re allowed to. Being out there means paying attention to the whole and to the details all at the same time.
Tjikko is still here, not as so much derived from landscape intervening. It has on the contrary been the refrain from action that guaranteed its continued unhindered existence. No borders, no walls, no aesthetics. It is one landscape only here, with one old tree in shades of grey, telling a deep time story. Patrik Qvist, the Swedish artist who managed to cut through the red tape, got permission to go up to Fulufjäll with the aim of finding the tree. Negotiating winter storms, retrieving his camera from the snow more than once, he came up with the thought-provoking photographs.
The ultimate outdoors icon
Impermanence, as a concept of constant change is one of the antonyms for longevity. Seemingly opposing principals, both go for Old Tjikko. The tree managed to survive successive climate changes by literally going underground, finding its shelter there, only to emerge in more favourable times. In other words the tree did exactly what one should do outdoors: take shelter when needed in order to survive. In this respect the tree in the land of the midnight sun will remain my ultimate outdoors icon.
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail (Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790)
While practical insights and a down-to-earth approach are very helpful when you step out from the comfort zone, an open eye and awareness in general are too. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: you will encounter it on your way, coming up to you without any doubt or hesitation. As does change. Simply because it is all out there.
Tips on further reading
- About Japanese aesthetics, find Graham Parkes entry on the subject (in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
- Find Patrik Qvist, including more on the Old Tjikko expedition in Dalarna, here.
- In English and Japanese, the official Ryōan-ji website. Click here.
© Featured images of Old Tjikko by Patrick Qvist.