The Tree Of Time

Matthew Donnellon

Author's Photo

Some pictures resonate with you for aesthetic reasons and others for personal ones. This one has both.

The photo shown above depicts the underside of a black walnut tree while the sun shines through the leaves.

It’s not just any tree though. A little background.

This tree is on property bought by my great-grandparents in the 60s. It’s in northern Michigan back in the woods, overlooking a valley.

It’s pretty awesome.

But back to the tree.

This is a black walnut tree. From what I know about trees, which is pretty limited to pine or not-pine, the thing that makes black walnuts unique, aside from presumably growing black walnuts, is that they take a very long time to grow.

A very long time.

This tree sits not far from a cabin my great-grandfather built by hand, a house we still use. One of his friends gave him the seed and he planted it. This was at some point in the 80s before I was born. And for years the tree was nothing more than a sapling.

My whole life this tree was never more than three feet tall. I always liked it as a kid because it’s not often when you’re a child to find trees the same height as you.

For the longest time, I thought the only significance of the tree was its unusual height. That was until my grandma told me about its significance. I never got to meet my great-grandfather, the man who planted the tree, but after hearing about this my feelings about the tree changed. It was no longer just the little tree, but a piece of the man who built the house, as though he was still keeping an eye on the place.

And so for my whole life, the past 30 years, this little tree remained little, until a couple years ago. I cam back to the cabin and started taking off. Now it’s over twelve feet tall. Tall enough that you can now walk under its branches.

And so that’s how this picture came about.

One day, I was outside with my friend's kids, and I was struck by the tree’s height. It was the first time I realized that I could walk under it.

As I did so I looked up and the sunlight was coming down through the canopy and made the coolest looking image.

No this is where I admit my total amateur photography skills if it wasn’t evident by the picture above.

The process for obtaining this photo consisted of pulling out my iPhone and pointing it skywards.

After, that I played with the brightness a little to make it pop and I got an image I liked.

I like this photo. To me, it almost looks closer to an illustration than a photo. The greens are bright and shadows on the trunk give it an animated quality. If I was looking at it and hadn’t taken I would think it’s photoshopped, but I can take little credit for the effect. It was mostly the tree’s doing. I was just there.

And now the best part is that I can keep this picture and when I’m not in the forest I have a reminder of the woods on my phone. And to make it better it’s a connection to my family’s past.

And while the colors are great and I love the vibrant hues in the picture the black and white version is fun too. I have included that here.

Author's photo

I still remember looking up and seeing that light shining through the trees. I think it proves that sometimes photography is about skill and sometimes it’s being in the right place at the right time.

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Matthew Donnellon is a writer, artist, and sit down comedian. He is the author of The Curious Case of Emma Lee and Other Stories

Detroit, MI

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