Listening to the Trees

By Mike Whiteley

When I walk in the woods what do I see and hear? Do the trees really speak to me? When I walk alone I feel closer to nature than when I am with others. I also spend a lot of time taking pictures deep in the woods. This is my way to connect most closely with nature, which works best if I am alone.

Walking alone in the backcountry is not for everyone; it carries inherent dangers most of you are aware of if you spend much time hiking. Though I do spend some of my time hiking alone, I also lead or join others on hikes as well. I enjoy both types of hikes and like helping others see new and different places they may not have been to or seen before. I like watching people make their own connections with nature. This is the basic idea behind Sierra Club outings: helping people enjoy and explore the world, with the hope they will then want to protect all they have seen.

"Tree 5" - Mike Whiteley

"If people in general could be got out into the woods, even for once, to hear the trees speak for themselves, all difficulties in the way of forest preservation would vanish." John Muir

As I walk I record things with my camera. Sometimes I am far from the trailhead but other times I am close; I take photos in town and other places that are devoid of nature. Nature speaks to me everywhere, sometimes with magnificent honor, but sometimes with sadness and sorrow. Looking at my pictures helps me see the world in a different way -- I can see again what I saw before, what has come and gone from what has changed, and what we have lost.

The camera changes the world ever so slightly in a way that we often don't see or realize unless we look closely. The camera stops time and place and records it so we can more clearly see the changes happening. Photography is a way to explore the world; I often photograph the changes in the world -- sometimes manmade and sometimes natural -- but they are always in their time: death, destruction, and renewal. However nature is changed it is always true to itself.

I often see in my photographs more and different connections with the world, in a way that helps me understand what it may be saying.

"Tree 4" - Mike Whiteley

"Every blade in the field, Every leaf in the forest, Lays down its life in its season, As beautifully as it was taken up." Henry David Thoreau

Photographing places and things is a way of talking to the world, but this connection with nature is not the same for everyone. I assume each person would need to look for him or herself and find what helps them connect to their world.

No matter how you do it, it is worth trying to find a way to "hear the trees speak for themselves." Maybe you will need to hike more often, climb mountains, walk alone in silence, or share with others what you have seen. Whatever you do, it will help you become closer with and understand the wonder of nature and be at peace with your place in the world.

"Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content." Helen Keller

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