Monthly Archives: January 2016

TG #40

tg textflourish  issue number
 
 

In TG 40:

Drawing a Forest + Mangrove Climbing + Illustrated Earth + Giant Trees Guide Project

Forty seems a nice round number, and with this issue we’ve made it that far. What a wonderful adventure it’s been – we’ve explored strange new spaces, learnt new ways of discovering the world, and travelled in time to experience different lives. Just marvellous!

We’ll do our best to keep you edu-tained and engaged yet again. We’ll kick off with Paperbark Writer’s spectacular “How to Draw a Forest”. It’s a skill-based article that will take you through the process of sketching a forest profile. The drawing she’s describing is in the forest type of SE Queensland that’s most similar to our tall Tasmanian forest; conveniently on a recent trip to the Gold Coast Hinterland I was able to get my hands on some postcard prints of the very image. 

Heading overseas, we’ll hop on a strange and unique mangroving expedition into the coastal forests of Mexico, and use our ancestral abilities to swing between branches. We love treeclimbing over here at TG, and Jonathan Bloch has brought an entirely different style to the arboreal adventure. It’s a remarkable read.

Another piece, the Illustrated Earth, focuses upon details from the cartographer’s toolkit.  Mr. Ticehurst  has draw an intricate set of landforms for use on illustrated maps. They are wonderful to look at, and a nice introduction to our beautiful planet.

And finally, there’s a project update on A Visitor’s Guide to Tasmania’s Giant Trees. Tasmanian Geographic is working on a guidebook to introduce those ambassadors from the natural world, and we need your help in tracking down some of the less-prominent individuals. We’re especially interested in giant gum trees in country towns, non-eucalypts of rainforest and mountain, and woodland species. Let us know if you’ve got any leads, or if you’d be so kind,  help us get in touch with someone who would!

  Enjoy!

All the best, The Editor  


TG Project Update – A Visitor’s Guide to Giant Trees

With the arrival of 2016, we’ve embarked on an outreach ecology project that we hope  you’ll be interested in: A Visitor’s Guide to the Giant Trees of Tasmania. Drawing on more than ten years of researching, photographing, climbing into, and enthusing about these remarkable individuals, the Visitor’s Guide aims to be a starting point for those interested in meeting these ancient individuals. 

 To bring this guidebook and archive into reality, we’re hoping you, dear reader, could help us track down lesser-known candidate trees for inclusion on this list. 

At this stage, we’ve got a pretty good sense of where the remaining giant wet-forest eucalypts are, but we’d greatly appreciate leads on:

  • giant trees of non-eucalyptus species within Tasmania
  • giant eucalypts of the drier forest
  • township and rural eucalypts of exceptional size.

If at all possible, an exact location, a photograph, and a species identification would be invaluable. Please be sensitive to access considerations: i.e. probably best not to include any trees hidden on remote private property.

We’ll keep you in the loop as the project comes together. We aim to have a dedicated web page online soon and a portable guidebook before end-2016. And of course, it will be a great excuse for field trips around the island.

Contact us at contact@tasmaniangeographic.com. If you’d be so kind as to share this request with someone who might be able to help, it would be much appreciated.

 

The Illustrated Earth – Ticehurt’s Landscape Physiography

Editor’s note:

On a recent dark Halloween night in Berkeley, California, we found ourselves volunteering at a house party to give out candy and observe the costumes on display. In a hallway indoors, a framed illustration caught the eye with its tremendous detail and complexity. On closer inspection, in was revealed to be a surprisingly complete effort at illustrating the diversity of land forms on our planet. It is a beautiful piece of work, and special thanks to Mr. Ticehurst for allowing us to share it. 

The Illustrated Landscape: H. Ticehurst:  Feb 24th, 1964:

Illustrated Physiographic Symbols - by H Ticehurst - Complete

Illustrated Physiographic Symbols – by H Ticehurst –

Mangroving: Discovering the Greatest Wilderness

The Greatest Wilderness on Earth

The DNA in you is a coded description of ancient worlds in which your ancestors lived.
DNA is the wisdom out of the old days, and I mean very old days indeed.
     – Richard Dawkins

What is it that makes humans so unique? More than any other animal, we are curious: constantly playing, driven to explore. We are visual: our eyes perceive depth, see in full color, recognize patterns and orient us in space. We are tactile: we grasp the world, and create it anew, with our agile hands. We are social: we live in groups; we need each other, and we love to talk to each other. And we are intellectual: we split the world into categories and understand the connections between them. How did we become such exceptional animals? My hypothesis is that these abilities originated long before we ever walked upright on the ground. They evolved as adaptations in our pre-human ancestors – primates who lived in the trees – precisely because trees are such an exceptionally complex environment to live in.

We humans have walked upright on two legs for the past six million years. Before that, and for at least ten times as long – sixty million years – our primate ancestors spent their lives in trees; a challenging habitat. They climbed and swung through a three-dimensional maze of branches, high above the earth, judging the distance between each handhold and the next. They grew curious, and became the tinkerers of the animal kingdom, the better to exploit the diversity of the forest. They learned to remember where and when the fruit became ripe from year to year. Their fingers became nimble enough to peel the thorns off of edible plants, to catch insects and frogs, and to steal bird eggs. They wove leafy branches into nests to sleep in at night. They lived in troops where they knew every member, and called back and forth through the treetops to communicate with each other. It was the demands of living in forests that forced our ancestors to evolve that great agility of body and mind – which we have inherited from them. We didn’t start becoming exceptional only when we began to walk upright on the savannah, but long before, and I believe it was our long apprenticeship in the trees that ultimately made possible what it is to be human.

What led me to this hypothesis in the first place wasn’t my interest in science or nature. It was a recurring dream I had when I was ten years old. I dreamt that my living room at home had turned into a swamp. When I stepped onto the carpet, it gave way under my feet like a layer of damp leaves over mud. Tall trees stood here and there in the murky light, with long vines hanging down. I climbed onto a root and swung up into the branches like an ape, leaping from branch to branch, the skin of my palms gripping the rough bark. I felt the taste of a primal knowledge. I felt completely free.

That sense of freedom is intoxicating for me. I’ve always felt like a captive animal in my culture, trapped in clothes, shoes, chairs, rooms. Our cities are built exactly to fit us, which, paradoxically, makes them almost too comfortable to live in. There’s no rocky ground to navigate, no branches to stoop under, no flowing water to cross. When you walk along the paved streets, your brain and your senses don’t have enough to grab on to; the landscape is too predictable, lacking the roughness of texture that you find in nature. The word wilderness has many contradictory meanings, and is loaded with outdated perceptions, but it means something straightforward to me: a natural environment so complex that it engages your body and mind in navigating the obstacles, making you move more freely and fluidly than you could on the ground. This is the story of my journey to find the greatest wilderness on earth.

Around the same time as my dream, I became fascinated with the study of human evolution. The books on my bedroom shelf were filled with pictures of chimpanzees in African forests, fossil hominid skulls, and family diagrams of ancestors who have gone extinct. It all conjured up a remote past when we were more animal than human – when we lived not on the ground, like most mammals, but in the trees, up in the sky. The strangeness of it gripped my imagination, and over the years the different threads came together: wondering how our ancestors had evolved, and wanting to climb in trees myself.

Somewhere I read about mangrove forests – a swamp ecosystem that resembles a jungle gym – and I recognized them as the forest in my dream. (As it happens, our primate ancestors evolved in high-canopy rainforest, not mangroves. However, mangroves are a good approximation, and, with their engaging complexity, an excellent fit for my definition of wilderness). But as the years passed I had only brief, tantalizing encounters with them: doing graduate research in Mexico, leading a kayaking trip in Florida, replanting mangrove seedlings in Brazil. I wanted to get to know the mangroves with my own hands, and find out why they mean so much to me.

For the past few years, I’ve been taking trips to Mexico to climb in mangroves. We camp on the beach, paddle down the river and string up a high-tension tent floor1 between the tree trunks. The tent floor is essential, because the point of mangroving is not just to climb, but also to be able to rest in this radically different environment. When you are lying down on the tent floor, like a chimpanzee in his tree nest, what you see around you looks like high-canopy rainforest, except right at ground level. Branches everywhere sprout from the trunks and stretch upward, supporting a roof of leaves overhead through which the sun shines green. Below, roots sprout from the trunks and arc downward, diving into the water and the mud beneath. You are surrounded not by walls, ceiling or floor, but by living branches, swaying gently with the movement of wind and water; everywhere permeable, everywhere alive, endless, and inviting.

You step onto a root, grab a branch and pull yourself up, hand over hand, into the canopy. The space around you is crisscrossed with branches in every direction – like the thicket of thoughts that fills your mind. It can be a difficult art to pick your way from one to the next.

After a while, you feel a shift. Your brain calms down, and your body finds its own way: hands reaching from branch to branch, feet hooking onto roots, your whole weight is borne from above as your limbs maneuver through space. You learn what a rock climber knows: that your foot can grasp, that your elbow can grip. But rocks are all surface; this is a living network that you explore from the inside. And as climbing becomes play, you feel the joy of swinging through the trees, in the kind of place that was once our home.

So, our relationship to trees is complex and meaningful, but it’s a history that we’ve left far behind; why should we care about it? I think this ancient history is still deeply significant for us today. The forest is the place where our curiosity and creativity began to evolve, precisely as adaptations for navigating the intricacy of that environment. Sixty million years spent living in the trees built into the primates an exceptionally strong urge to explore, which they exercise by playing throughout a childhood that is the longest found in any mammal. We humans elongate our childhood even further; as children we remain dependent for longer, and engage in play that is more intense and all-engrossing, than that of any other primate. And, uniquely, we continue doing this throughout our whole lives. Even as adults, we explore and experiment by making music, painting pictures, playing sports and telling stories, turning our childish play into our brilliance as a species. The capacities that ultimately led to all this complexity began to evolve long before we did; they were required of our ancestors to survive in their forest home. Those sixty million years in the trees were a kind of apprenticeship – the childhood of humanity. Just as our forgotten infancy, our profound dependence on mother and father, has largely shaped us as adults, so our forgotten infancy in the trees has helped make us the humans we have become. Not yet able to alter the world with fire, digging-sticks and arrowheads, we were, in those ancient beginnings, most dependent on the fruits of the forest. And in our utter dependence, we formed an intimate connection with the home that cradled and sheltered us, naked, in its branches.

Even living in cities, we know it’s true that we ultimately depend upon the natural environment to keep us alive. But climbing in trees makes us face that truth in the original sense of the word “depend”: to hang down. Hanging from living tree branches is a vivid illustration of what it means to depend on nature. You and I, with our flexible shoulder joints, grasping hands and good visual depth perception, are still well-adapted to climb in trees. And when we do, we rediscover a talent most of us never knew we had: how to depend on nature with nothing intervening in between.

I set out to find the greatest wilderness on earth. What has my search turned up? The greatest wilderness is not a tropical rainforest, or vast desert, or thundering waterfall. And, perhaps in seeming contradiction to what I’ve been saying here, neither is it a mangrove forest. Climbing in mangroves is a way for us to explore the greatest wilderness on earth, which actually exists inside our bodies and our minds: the hidden boundary in all of us between human and animal.

This needs to be understood correctly. I don’t mean it poetically, or to evoke some sort of spiritual truth, but rather as a precise definition. We humans still carry in each cell, alongside the genes that make us human, much older genes that encode skills for tree-living; adaptations for traversing a canopy of branches; ancient memories of our forest home. Those instructions remain in us from a time long before we walked on the ground as civilized humans full of rational purpose; when we foraged in the trees as wild animals full of intuitive energy. That ancestral primate nature at our core, that wilderness buried within ourselves, is the one that I believe we most crucially need to discover. We humans will continue to explore, and might even succeed, one day, in walking on other planets, without ever coming closer to a deeply felt understanding of our kinship with life on this planet. We are distant relatives of starfish, closer still to giraffes and whales; but we are very close cousins of the primates – who still know how it feels to inhabit the very same forest we once shared with them. The complexity of that forest mirrors the complexity of the wildness within, which is the greatest wilderness on earth.


Postscript: my goal with the Mangroving Project is to guide people in climbing and give them a deep understanding of our evolutionary history. I’ve led three trips to the mangroves in Mexico and plan to lead more. If you’d like to join me on the next trip, check out the website: www.mangroving.com, or contact me at mangroving@gmail.com to learn the details.

The Mangroving Project

How to Draw A Forest

Part one: Seeing the wood for the trees

Look for depictions of forests in art and you won’t find many. Sure, there are plenty of landscapes with trees. But look closer and you’ll notice there are only a few trees, probably to one side of the picture, and the rest is open country. Or it is a parkland, some type of woodland, with scattered trees, not a forest. And in many pictures, the trees are just scenery, just background to the main subject of the painting – be that people, or a building, mountain or water feature. In many paintings the trees are decapitated – you might see the base of the tree, but the canopy is cut off. We would never depict a person like this, if we wanted to paint their portrait. Why is it that trees, and especially forests, get treated this way?

A few years ago I was engaged to write management guidelines for a range of Queensland forests and woodlands (e.g. rainforests, eucalypt woodlands, mulga and brigalow). The guidelines would describe the ecology of each vegetation type and outline how to restore these systems for carbon farming and wildlife conservation. This was part of the CATER project (Carbon Accumulation Through Ecosystem Recovery), back in a more enlightened time when the Federal and State governments took climate change a bit more seriously, and were willing to invest in innovative projects to tackle it.

I like to express concepts in pictures as well as words, so as I reviewed the literature, and drafted the guidelines, I looked for images of the forests and woodlands I was writing about. I found very few good photographs and almost no drawings or paintings of these types of Australian vegetation. And I found this rather curious.

Of course, when we humans, at our pitiful height of 1.5 – 2 m, take pictures of forests, they are almost certainly distorted, with the bases of the trees huge and the canopies either shrunken or simply cut out of the photo. Usually the bases of one or a few trees block most of the picture. And that’s fine if we want a human-perspective view of the forest. But what if we want to capture the forest in its entirety? Or at least a range of trees, not distorted, from base to canopy?

To illustrate the ecology of each forest type I wanted to produce a state-and-transition diagram for each one. This shows the main ‘condition states’ of a forest – different successional stages if you like. Queensland has excellent vegetation mapping, including pre-European vegetation mapping, so for any given site we can determine what native vegetation used to grow there. My task was to describe how you could bring it back to the maximum-carbon and/or maximum biodiversity state (which are almost always the same thing). So I was looking for ways to illustrate these states visually, as well as in words. Co-writing these guides with me was my now good friend and ecologist extraordinaire, Don Butler. Which was just as well, because even though I had a thorough grounding in plant ecology and wildlife conservation, I was relatively new to Queensland. Don on the other hand, had spent many years exploring and mapping the vegetation we were writing about, so I would often ask him about a certain fact or theory I found in the literature, for a reality check. Don also understood the carbon-farming side of things a lot better than I did.

I ended up sketching some very simple profile diagrams of the forests and woodlands in felt-tip pen. 

 

You can find the finished guidelines through these links: Eucalypt woodlands, Eucalypt open-forests, Wet sclerophyll forest, Rainforest, Mulga, Brigalow

These pictures were intended to be a guide for the ‘professional artist’ we were going to employ to do the final illustrations. But since the CATER project was axed only halfway through its intended life (when the LNP government came to power in Queensland) this ‘professional artist’ was never employed. My sketchy pictures became the final product, and I am still a bit embarrassed by their simplicity and roughness. But although they could be far more polished, I still think they do a good job at conveying the information, and giving an impression of each forest or woodland type. 

 

But I was still left with the question – why don’t people paint forests? And I felt sad that our wonderful forests and woodlands – although many have been beautifully photographed over the years – still mostly end up depicted from the human, distorted perspective. I wanted to see them in their entirety, I wanted to look upon their different structures and textures, and colours and tree types. To compare the way the light passed through them, the way the trees were shaped, the differences in understorey: grassy, shrubby or a mixture of both. Although I could imagine this in my mind from the forests I had walked through, I couldn’t easily compare these differences by looking at the images I had found so far. And if a person had never visited these forests, how could they understand and appreciate their different forms, beauty and variety? So I decided that I would try to paint some forest portraits myself.

Part two: My first forest portrait

When it comes to doing art I’m largely self-taught (up until recently I would always hesitate to call myself an artist). But I do like a challenge. Trying to draw forest portraits would require me to brush up on everything I had ever learnt about colour and tone and whatever else goes into making a good picture. And I had very few examples of this type of picture – a forest ‘portrait’ – to go by. And perhaps most challenging of all, even though I wanted to make it as realistic as possible – with species that were recognisable to those who knew their plants – I would need to invent the picture.

As mentioned above, the human perspective of a forest is usually distorted because of our small size. To avoid this distortion, I couldn’t just draw the whole picture from real life, or from a photo – my forest portrait needed to be invented. I had to imagine I was viewing the forest without the distortion, as if I was sort of floating halfway up the trees and also looking at them from a distance, so I could capture their entire height. Of course, one can clearfell a forest to achieve that perspective, but needless to say, I wasn’t keen on such destruction. But I did make good use of road cuttings and elevation wherever I could, to increase my height with respect to the trees, so that I could try to reduce the distortion.

For some reason I started with the tallest forest type that exists in Australia – the wet sclerophyll forest, also known as tall open eucalypt forest. The mountain ash trees (Eucalyptus regnans) which dominate these forests in south-eastern Australia are the tallest flowering plants in the world. The tallest living specimen of a mountain ash is 99.6 m tall. In south-east Queensland (where I’m based) wet sclerophyll forest is dominated by other tree species – including the flooded or rose gum E. grandis, Sydney blue gum E. saligna and blackbutt E. pilularis. These species don’t grow as tall as the tallest mountain ash, but they can still grow up to 50 m in height. Here’s a simple profile sketch of wet sclerophyll forest that shows the type of forest I set out to draw:

Simple profile diagram of wet sclerophyll forest in south-east Queensland - by Paula Peeters

Simple profile diagram of wet sclerophyll forest in south-east Queensland – by Paula Peeters

The forest portrait would need to be a composite picture, made up of many separate impressions. So I went out to places in south-east Queensland, such as Bellthorpe State Forest, Brisbane Forest Park and Mount Mee, that still had patches of wet sclerophyll forest. Always with the lovely Ray, but once also as a volunteer with the Queensland Herbarium, assisting with their monitoring of the horse trails network (thankyou to Michael Ngugi for having us along). It was helpful to go out with botanists who knew the plant species much better than I did, and to ask them about typical forest assemblages and growth forms. I decided to focus on wet sclerophyll forest dominated by flooded gums. I took lots of photos, tried to estimate the dimensions of the trees, and scribbled many small sketches and notes. Here’s a few of them:

Then I took all of this back home and tried to transfer it to a large piece of pastel paper. I drew with soft pastels because they were the colour medium I’d worked with the most. They are forgiving if you make a mistake – usually you can just remove the pastel and start again. They also suited my work style – which was extremely slow, since I needed to do lots of thinking and imagining to invent my picture, and stop-start, since I also had a day job. But one of the drawbacks of pastels is that their resolution isn’t great – it’s hard to achieve fine detail.

It took about 9 days of working about 5 hours each day, spread over several weeks, to finish this first forest portrait. There was much trial-and-error, much contemplation, and many cups of tea. This is what I finally came up with:

Flooded gum forest - a type of wet sclerophyll forest - pastel on paper, by Paula Peeters (52 cm x 72 cm)

Flooded gum forest – a type of wet sclerophyll forest – pastel on paper, by Paula Peeters (52 cm x 72 cm)

Wet sclerophyll forests can be a bit gloomy, especially in south eastern Australia. But in Queensland they are often full of bright sunlight. I depicted mine with morning sun shining slantwise through the trees. These forests are usually in mountainous areas, so the picture has mountains in the background. The flooded gums are the tallest trees in the picture, but there are a number of other tree species in the understorey – I’ve labelled them in the figure below. I also made sure to put in important habitat features, like mistletoe, a dead standing tree with hollows, and woody debris on the forest floor. A human in the bottom left corner is included for scale, and is dwarfed by the towering trees.

Selected features of a wet sclerophyll forest dominated by flooded gums - by Paula Peeters

Selected features of a wet sclerophyll forest dominated by flooded gums – by Paula Peeters

Am I happy with the finished product? Yes and no.

No, because parts of it still look sketchy. Precise details are limited in places – which is a function of the pastels, the scale of the picture, and my limited technical skills. The picture looks naive, but this is ok because there is enough realism for the tree species to be recognisable.

But mostly yes. This picture makes me feel happy – I can’t say exactly why. Something about the tall majestic trees reaching up, the bright sunlight and vibrant colours, and the richness. It gives an impression, a glimpse, of a certain type of wet sclerophyll forest, in a certain type of light. And it’s a glimpse from a perspective that I’ve never had before.

But I was keenly aware that there were so many other types of forest, including more ‘flavours’ of wet sclerophyll forest. Now that I had done one portrait, I imagined how wonderful it would be to compare a series of them, side by side. I was itching to do more.


 

The story of Paula’s forest portraits (eight have been completed so far) continues on her website where you can purchase greeting cards, colouring books, and fine art prints: 

Products – Paperbark Writer

Year-in-Review 2015: Readers’ Choice, Editor’s Picks, Annual Index

2015 has been an exciting year for readers of Tasmanian Geographic. We’ve journeyed into the treetops, orbited the planet, traversed the high mountains, visited New Zealand, hunted for sapphires, discovered Jurassic tree ferns, dived into a subterranean cave, marvelled at the aurora and the sea sparkle both, and much more.

As a review here are three ways for you to revisit what we’ve published in the last calendar year and get ready for 2016. We’ll start with the Readers’ Choice Awards, which are calculated by abacus and fingercounting using digital readership figures. These five articles were the ones which you. dear friends, found the most engaging, and, notwithstanding the non-scientific nature of the statistics, it’s very likely that you’ll enjoy rereading them.

Next, five Picks from the Editor’s Desk. These are articles worthy of a special mention, and were chosen without any reference to quantitative measurements.  Do check them out, and enjoy. And, finally, the complete index – at a glance you can study all of the things we’ve published this year, and choose your own favourite.

All the best! Happy New Year!

 

Reader’s Choice Awards 2015 (in no particular order):

 

Editor’s Picks (in no particular order):

Annual Index 2015: Tasmanian Geographic: